Renfrewshire Council

How managers can support colleagues through pregnancy loss

Guidance on having a conversation with your colleague about pregnancy loss and policies related to time off and returning to work.

There are lots of things that you can do as a manager to make it easier for you and any member of your team if and when they are affected by pregnancy loss. Please remember that our policy also covers partners, and the points below matter just as much when supporting partners as they do for supporting the pregnant parent.

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Having a conversation with a team member affected by pregnancy loss

Acknowledge what has happened

It can feel uncomfortable to talk about pregnancy loss, since it is a deeply personal experience. But it's important to acknowledge that this is a bereavement, and as a line manager, you should always say you're sorry for their loss. Your colleague may be embarrassed and prefer to keep things private. You're there to reassure them that we are committed to supporting them, however the loss has occurred.

At an appropriate point, ask them what they need, but be aware that they may not know immediately. So, ensure that they know they can contact you at a future time to discuss this.

The Miscarriage Association tells us that people who experience recurring loss tend to get less support each time, but this is often when they need it most. A simple acknowledgement of how difficult this must be will go a long way.

Spend a bit of time to listen and respond

As a manager, you're more likely to understand what your colleague needs if you can talk sensitively and listen carefully to what they choose to share. How you listen and respond will affect how much they tell you and how comfortable they feel about telling you more. The prompts below may help with these sensitive conversations:

  • Ask simple, open questions - give your colleague time to explain what's happening in their own words, and be prepared for some silences.
  • Don't interrupt or impose your opinions or ideas - even if you have experienced a loss yourself, their own experience may be very different.
  • Show empathy and understanding - don't make assumptions about what they are experiencing or try to guess how it will affect their work.
  • Follow their lead in terms of the language they use to describe their loss - for example, some people say 'pregnancy' whereas others prefer to say 'baby'.
  • Offer comfort and support - don't be afraid to admit a lack of knowledge and ask what they need.

As well as helping you with what to say, the Miscarriage Association suggest it's just as important to know what not to say as some phrases can be seen as insensitive even though that's not your intention.

Avoid using phrases such as:

  • "look on the bright side"
  • "at least it was early on"
  • "you can always try again"
  • "it was probably for the best"
  • "everything happens for a reason".

Consider using the following phrases:

  • "I'm sorry for your loss."
  • "This must be really hard."
  • "Please let me know if there is anything you need."
  • "How are you feeling?"
  • "What other support do you have?"

Useful questions to help with the conversation

If you're not sure how to start a conversation, use the questions below to get you started:

  • "What do you feel would help you right now?"
  • "Do you need any time off work?"
  • "How would you like me to keep in touch while you are away?"
  • "Have you seen or know about the Council's Pregnancy Loss Policy?"
  • "Do you know how to access the wellbeing support the Council offers?"
  • "What, if anything, would you like colleagues/the team to know?"
  • "Is there anything you need me to find cover for so you're not worrying while you are off?"

Our 'wellbeing conversations' course on iLearn provides further examples and lots of practical advice on employee-led conversations, active listening and empathy.


Your colleague might not want others in the team to know what has happened. Ask them what, if anything, they would like to share with colleagues. They have a right to keep things private if they choose. Respect their wishes. If you have to tell someone (for example, the HR team), ask how they would like it to be communicated.

Be Supportive

One of the most important things that you can do is to be approachable, have the knowledge to respond appropriately, and offer the right support for your colleague should they need it. The pregnancy loss policy outlines the support that is available to colleagues and signposts to specialist charities and organisations that can offer support. It may also help to share the details of other organisations that can help, such as the Miscarriage Association.

Choose a time when they're not too emotional to take in the information. It might also help to print off the policy and talk it through together. Make sure they know who else they can talk to, share the details of the wellbeing hub, and let them know they can access Time for Talking, our employee assistance programme, at any time day or night by calling 0800 970 3980.

If the pregnancy loss happens at work

You may not be aware that an employee is pregnant. They are not obliged to tell their manager of their pregnancy until 15 weeks before their estimated due date or as soon as is reasonably practicable after then (approximately six months pregnant).

If a colleague suspects that they have started to lose their baby, they may have bleeding, severe abdominal pain, and may be faint or collapse. They may be very distressed and panicked, embarrassed, and frightened.

You can help by ensuring that they have privacy, support, and access to a toilet. If they have a preferred contact or colleague, you can arrange for them to assist in getting your colleague home or to hospital. In severe cases, you may need to call an ambulance.

If your colleague's partner, relative or close friend is told of a loss while at work, they may need to leave at short notice to provide practical and emotional support.

Time off

Many people, but not all, will need some time off work to recover physically and emotionally. Some will need more time off than others. Our approach is designed to be flexible enough for managers to respond to individual colleague need. Use your discretion to decide what is right for you colleague's individual situation and circumstances.

As a guide, we would generally recommend giving between 5 to 10 days pregnancy loss paid leave, but some situations may need more or less.

Returning to work

Returning to work after the loss of a pregnancy may be overwhelming. Your colleague may feel anxious about what other colleagues will say or be uncertain about returning to 'normal' life.

A good starting point for discussing the return to work with your colleague would be to begin with the questions below. Their answers will give you an idea of whether you may need to consider making any reasonable adjustments for their return. If you think that your colleague will need any reasonable adjustments, it would be good practice to carry out a risk assessment and work together on a wellbeing plan. Think about the nature of the work they will be going back to and the impact that and the environment might have on them.

For example:

  • do they work with babies or very young children?
  • do they have long shifts alone?
  • do they work with/support or manage people who are in the same stage of pregnancy as they would have been?
  • are they returning to a team where others have come back from maternity leave or are about to?
  • are they likely to be supporting others who are grieving?
  • is there anything you can do to make it easier?

How pregnancy loss may affect colleagues at work

Everyone is different, and pregnancy loss can affect people in lots of ways. However, some common things that people may experience might be:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • finding it difficult to concentrate or to feel motivated
  • struggling with social interaction
  • experiencing mood swings
  • feeling more tearful or irritable and finding it difficult to manage their mental health.

Along with the above, there are other things to consider that may affect your team member:

  • Important dates (such as due dates or the anniversary of the loss) can be difficult. If you can, check-in with them and see if you can help make things easier. Often just remembering and recognising the date can help.
  • The return of menstruation (usually 4-6 weeks after a miscarriage) and attendant hormonal changes can be a difficult time for many women.
  • Pregnancy announcements and pregnant colleagues may make things harder. If possible, it may help to warn them before someone sends out a pregnancy announcement via email.
  • Some women prefer to get on with things and find it frustrating if people tiptoe around certain topics when with them. If you're not sure what they would prefer, ask them.
  • Pregnancy after a miscarriage can be a very anxious time. Be aware they may have additional appointments and scans during that pregnancy.
  • A very high level of psychological stress may be associated with an increased likelihood of miscarriage.
  • Recurrent miscarriage may cause long-term emotional stress that can affect their mental and physical health. They may need additional support and time off for investigations and treatment. It's important to continue to offer the same level of support throughout.
  • Make sure you check in regularly, perhaps at one-to-one sessions to see whether they need any further support.

If you still feel that you or your colleague need more help and support, you can always contact someone from the People & OD team to provide further guidance and advice.