Close Menu

Postpartum Depression

Learn more about accommodations for postpartum depression

From the desk of Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team


The birth of a baby can prompt a mixture of strong emotions, from elation and joy to fear and apprehension. It can also bring on something you might least expect – depression. Many new moms experience the "postpartum baby blues" after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery and may last for up to two weeks.

While the baby blues are a temporary condition, some new moms experience a more severe, longer-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with the ability to care for the baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later — up to six months after birth.

Postpartum depression can last well into the time when many new mothers had planned to return to work. How can a new mom manage depression and return to work? Let’s look at some ideas that might be helpful in the workplace to help ease the strain and make a work / life balance a little easier to achieve.

Although pregnancy is not a disability under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), pregnancy-related impairments, such as postpartum depression, may be considered disabilities for which employers would be obligated to provide reasonable accommodations unless they were to cause a hardship.

Accommodation Ideas:

Concentration

  • Reduce distractions in the work area:
    • Provide space enclosures, sound absorption panels, or a private office
    • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
    • Allow the employee to listen to soothing music
    • Provide a noise canceling headset
    • Plan for uninterrupted work time
    • Purchase organizers to reduce clutter
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full-spectrum lighting
  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Work from home/Flexi-place
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals
  • Use auditory or written cues as appropriate
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions
  • Provide memory aids such as schedulers, organizers, and / or apps

Managing Stress / Emotions

  • Encourage use of stress management techniques to deal with frustration
  • Allow the presence of a support animal
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Use a mentor or supervisor to alert the employee if her behavior is becoming unprofessional or inappropriate
  • Assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer the employee's questions
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions during times of stress
  • Refer to counseling, employee assistance programs (EAP)
  • Provide backup coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks
  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Leave for treatment 
    • Work from home/Flexi-place

Sleep Disturbances

  • Allow for a flexible start time
  • Combine regularly scheduled short breaks into one longer break
  • Provide a place for the employee to sleep during break
  • Allow the employee to work one consistent schedule
  • Provide a device such as a Doze Alert or other alarms to keep the employee alert
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting

Fatigue

  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Work from home/Flexi-place
  • Provide a goal-oriented workload
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Attendance

  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Leave for treatment
    • Work from home/Flexi-place
  • Provide straight shift or permanent schedule
  • Allow the employee to make up the time missed
  • Modify attendance policy
    • Example: count one occurrence for all mental health-related absences

Situations and Solutions:

Situation: Marcella, who was diagnosed with postpartum depression, is unable to return to work on her scheduled return date. She asks her employer for the accommodation of an extra month of leave in order to seek treatment.

Solution: The employer found no hardship in extending the leave for another month, and agreed to provide the accommodation.

Situation: Jacquie is a new mom returning to work with postpartum depression. She  requested to work from home three days a week instead of the standard one day all employees were allowed. She asked to do so on a temporary basis, not knowing for sure how long it would be necessary.

Solution: After determining that the employee would most likely be able to do her work from home the two extra days per week, the employer allowed telework on a trial basis to see how well it would work. They agreed to meet with Jacquie weekly in order to touch base and see how effective the accommodation was for both parties. 

Situation: Nora is trying to return to work after an extended maternity/postpartum leave. She asked for a flexible schedule to help her battle fatigue due to insomnia and the medications she takes. As part of the flexibility, she asked to start her day an hour before others or to stay an hour after others had left in order to have more uninterrupted, quiet work time. She also asked if breaks and lunch could be redistributed so that she had shorter, more frequent breaks to get up and move around.

Solution: Even though all employees had a fairly stringent schedule, the employer found no hardship in allowing the flexibility this employee asked for and agreed to try the accommodation of a flexible schedule.