How to Handle Being Pregnant at Work
Most women are safe to keep working throughout their pregnancies. In fact, continuing to clock in five days a week is a good thing. “It allows them to maintain financial stability and continue contributing toward their career goals,” says Rahil Malik, MD, FACOG, OB/GYN in Plantation, Florida. “As the number of women in the workforce increases, so has the number of pregnant employees.”
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends continued work for most moms-to-be because it carries little risk to the health of mama or her mini. Even so, there are some adjustments you’ll need to make to accommodate your changing body.
Feeling Less-Than Swell
In the early weeks of your pregnancy, you might be keeping news of your babe-to-be under wraps. Unfortunately, this is also the time that pregnancy-related conditions and discomforts like exhaustion and morning sickness (or, more accurately for many pregnant women, all-day sickness) rear their ugly heads.
Resting during the workday isn’t always possible, so try to clock seven to nine hours of shuteye at night when you can. (This is easier for a new parent, but expectant moms of other children may have a harder time getting quality sleep.) If you have a quiet place at work where you can prop up your feet and close your eyes for a few minutes, go for it. But you can also fend off fatigue by taking a short stroll to get your heart pumping and feel reenergized. Noshing on foods rich in protein and iron promotes long periods of energy as well.
“Up to 90 percent of women experience some form of nausea and/or vomiting during the course of their pregnancies,” notes Malik. What nips nausea in the bud can vary from mom to mom, but many women find it helpful to steadily graze on food throughout the day. It may seem counterintuitive, but having something in your stomach can prevent queasiness. So, keep your bag stocked with plenty of sustenance. If it’s a nutrient-dense option, wonderful! But what matters most right now is that you can keep it down.
Morning sickness is often triggered by strong flavors and smells, so the least offending options are likely to be the blandest. (If you were to check my desk drawers during my first trimester, you were guaranteed to find rice cakes, water crackers and pretzels—the saltiness seemed to help in my case.) After a bit of trial and error, you’ll figure out what foods nix nausea, or at the very least don’t trigger your gag reflex.
Malik advises moms-to-be to steer clear of spicy, oily and high-fat foods. Instead carry a protein bar to satiate hunger in a hurry. He also suggests trying vitamin B6 and ginger ale. “These supplements are safe to take during pregnancy and have been shown to reduce [nausea].”
Should your co-worker’s lunch make you want to heave, take a moment to stretch your legs elsewhere. (I also kept clementines handy for just such occasions. The fresh scent combated any unwanted odors, and citrus fruits are a natural way to ease the quease.)
“Usually as the first trimester ends, these symptoms also start to wane,” says Malik, so take comfort that you should be feeling like your old self soon.
Spread the Word
When you’re ready to spill the pregnancy beans, set up a time to talk with your boss. If you’re nervous, it might be beneficial to chat with a trusted co-worker who has been pregnant while working for the same company. That way you can find out what to expect and be prepared for any questions or concerns your employer might have. But proceed with caution: Your boss will appreciate hearing the exciting news from you and not the office rumor mill.
Before your meeting, read up on company policies regarding pregnancy and parental leave, and consider sitting down with your human resources representative to gain additional insight on important factors such as paid or unpaid leave, possible changes to your health insurance, as well as options for disability leave, should a medical condition arise. You’ll also want to know your rights and be familiar with any state laws or protections—just in case. (Find your state at pregnantatwork.org and check out the U.S. Department of Labor for more insight.) When you have all of the information, you can then decide what to say and how to say it. Furthermore, you’ll be better equipped to field any questions.
After you tell your employer your news, reassure her that you are still just as committed to your job. Be up front about any adjustments that you may need to make while reminding her that this is all temporary.
In case the subject comes up, you should be ready to discuss whether you intend to return to work after maternity leave. If you do, come up with a plan to ensure your workload is covered while you’re away. If you don’t, explain how you’ll make your departure as seamless as possible.
If at any point in the conversation something sounds wrong or odd, take a minute to jot down a few notes. Remember: Unfair treatment based on an employee’s pregnancy goes against legal rights is prohibited under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978), Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, 1993).
Once your boss is in the know, feel free to spread the word amongst your peers. Although they’ll likely be thrilled for you, try to avoid bringing up baby in every conversation. You don’t want your co-workers to think you are distracted on the job or getting special treatment.
Bump and Grind
Whether you spend 9 to 5 at a desk or you’re on your feet from the moment you clock in, you’ll more than likely need to make a few modifications to your work routine once baby is on board.
“Most employers are supportive of women during their pregnancy and often make a reasonable accommodation for them at their jobs,” reassures Malik. “This can include frequent breaks, limiting strenuous tasks, [or] relocating from one work environment to another to reduce exposure to workplace hazards such as radiation, toxic chemicals and environmental factors.”
As your pregnancy progresses, even the simplest activities, like standing or sitting, can become a literal pain. Taking breaks to move around can lessen swelling in your legs and feet. Make it your goal to walk a bit every two hours, and while you’re up, you can work in a few stretches, too. (See? Those frequent trips to the bathroom are good for more than bladder relief!)
Another way to stay comfortable on the job is by drinking lots of water. Try keeping a glass or reusable bottle on your desk; having something to sip on within reach will help you stay hydrated, and—you guessed it—refilling it at the water cooler is another great excuse to get up.
For those who spend most of the day sitting, use a chair with good lower back support. Add a small pillow or cushion to bolster your back if needed, especially as your weight and posture change. Also important: Avoid crossing your legs, which can hinder circulation, potentially causing blood clots, and tilt your pelvis, which could impede your bambino’s descent down the birth canal.
For those who spend long stretches of time standing, give your feet a break by propping them up one at a time on a box or low stool. What you wear can make an enormous difference, too, so reach for comfortable shoes with good arch support and compression socks or hosiery to keep things flowing smoothly.
You might be hesitant to bring up the need for any workplace adjustments with your boss, such as a more flexible schedule or avoiding heavy lifting as you near your due date, but rest assured that employers have their own incentives for supporting pregnant workers. “Usually small changes (periodic breaks, ergonomic chairs, intermittent rest from prolonged standing, etc.) allow expectant mothers to function without a decrease in productivity,” Malik points out. “It also benefits employers because they don’t have to hire and train new employees.”
Your boss may require a letter from your doctor stating that you are cleared to work or verifying any modifications you request. But workplace discrimination based on pregnancy is illegal, and expectant employees must be allowed to work so long as they can perform their jobs.
Many moms-to-be are A-OK to continue working up until their due dates. However, if you feel the need to start your maternity leave a few days early, then give yourself a break and rest up before baby arrives.
By Chantel Newton