Health & Safety

article icon

Guidance for New and Expectant Mothers

16 January 2010

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), has published updated guidance, to help protect the health and safety of new or expectant mothers at work.

mother and baby

The term "new and expectant mothers" covers women who are pregnant, have given birth in the last six months or are breastfeeding. The HSE leaflet "A Guide for New and Expectant Mothers Who Work" is for women employees and shows how employers should help pregnant women.

  • Employers must carry out a proper risk assessment to identify potential hazards to pregnant workers.

New and expectant mothers are entitled to a change in working conditions, or be offered suitable alternative work. Employers have a legal responsibility to protect women employees from hazards and risks in the workplace and to assess possible risks to new and expectant mothers.

  • It is important that women workers inform their employer that they are pregnant or breastfeeding as early as possible. This is because employers are not required to take any specific action until they have received written notification.

Being pregnant or a new mother doesn't prevent women from working and developing their career. Every year around 350,000 women continue to work during their pregnancy and of these 69% return to work soon after giving birth.

EOC statistics show that around 1500 tribunal cases involving pregnancy maternity related discrimination take place each year with around 1400 of those involving some breach of health and safety legislation. Employers increasingly have to pay higher awards in sex discrimination cases and the there is no limit to how much companies could be ordered to pay in compensation.

The HSE guide for new and expectant mothers who work is strongly supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

There is a growing body of evidence that illustrates women are at a higher risk of having a premature baby if they work in an extremely demanding and stressful environment. The new guide is aimed at helping employers to provide the right working environment for pregnant women in the workplace.

  • More than one in four pregnant women experience a miscarriage,
  • one in 200 babies are stillborn, and
  • 100 premature babies are born every day.

New and expectant mothers should avoid:

  • lifting heavy loads,
  • physical risks,
  • working in confined spaces,
  • working at unsuitable workstations,
  • working in stressful or violent environments, or
  • working with chemical and biological risks.