The term “maternal body” describes women’s embodied potential for getting pregnant, giving birth, and becoming a mother, with responsibility for nurturing (and perhaps breastfeeding) infant children. Feminist research on organisational cultures has observed how some employers are hostile towards the maternal body. In the context of such antipathy, employer commitment towards expectant and new mothers is reduced. Contradictions are notable between equal opportunities policies (aimed at protecting pregnant and newly maternal employees) and occupational discrimination relating to women’s capacity for reproduction. As the distinguished sociologist Joan Acker has suggested, women’s maternal bodies and their capacity to procreate, become pregnant and breastfeed, may be used as grounds for exclusion of women from career opportunities. The term “maternal body” is sometimes used more broadly, beyond the specific boundaries of ‘motherhood’ (i.e pregnancy, birth and the mothering of infant children) and is extended to include menstruation, non-motherhood and menopause.
The problems faced by employed pregnant women and new mothers remain hotly debated. In an interview with Alice Eagly, Rebecca Knight observes how new mothers are often sidelined into part-time work and face barriers to career progress. Similarly in 2010 Lucy Kellaway considers how flexibility can and should be offered to working mothers with children, and acknowledges that mothers can sometimes experience hostile treatment when trying to juggle childcare and paid work.