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Can I work throughout my pregnancy?
If you're a healthy woman having a normal pregnancy and your job does not involve exposure to harmful chemicals, you may be able to continue working until the day you give birth – or close to it. Though you may tire more easily toward the end of your pregnancy, so take it easy if possible.
And give yourself a break. If you can afford to start your maternity leave a week or two before your due date, consider using that time to rest up, prepare, and indulge yourself a little. It may be the last time you have to yourself for a while.
How do I maintain a professional image as my pregnancy progresses?
It helps to know how your pregnancy may affect you at work. During the first and third trimesters, expect fatigue, discomfort, and absentmindedness. But you may feel more energetic and focused in the second trimester. Even though the fatigue and forgetfulness are normal, it might help to talk about your pregnancy with a trusted friend at work.
Your pregnancy, though visible, can still be private. Try not to complain or talk about your pregnancy too much, especially if your supervisor or co-workers are already less than supportive of your pregnancy.
Whenever you can grab a few moments of privacy during the day, feel free to daydream, worry, wonder, even meditate about your pregnancy, but be prudent when you're around your co-workers.
How do I manage morning sickness at work?
Most women experience nausea or vomiting at some point during pregnancy, and chances are it will hit you at work. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatments to relieve morning sickness and strategies to keep nausea at bay.
If you're having trouble keeping food down, stash plastic bags, towels, and mouthwash in your desk or your car, and figure out the quickest way to the bathroom. (If you haven't told your boss or co-workers your news yet, try to be ready with a convincing explanation in case someone comes in while you're indisposed.)
If your morning sickness is especially severe and prolonged – with constant nausea or frequent vomiting – you may have to tell your supervisor about your pregnancy earlier than you planned. This can be tricky because you don't want it to seem like you can't do your job.
Before you tell her, figure out what you want: Compassion? Time off? A flexible schedule until you get through the worst of it? And be ready to offer a commitment that you'll continue to get your work done. Finally, assure your supervisor that morning sickness usually goes away by the end of the first trimester.
How can I stay comfortable on the job?
Even if your job requires minimal standing and nothing more strenuous than lifting a phone, make an effort to take good care of yourself while you're pregnant. Here are some tips:
- Take breaks. If you've been standing, put your feet up or walk around. Moving the muscles helps push fluid out of the feet and legs and back up to the heart to be recirculated.
- Keep moving. Stand up and walk around every two hours. This will relieve swelling in your feet and ankles, and it should keep you more comfortable. While you're up, do a few stretching exercises to protect your back.
- Dress comfortably. Wear comfy shoes and loose clothing. You might also try wearing maternity tights or support hose to prevent or ease swelling and varicose veins.
- Drink a lot of water. Keep a tall glass at your desk or work area and refill it often. This will also give you a chance to take a break and walk to the bathroom.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat regular meals and snacks, which can prevent morning sickness and drops in blood sugar. Choose balanced and nutritious lunches whenever you can. Add fiber to your diet to ease constipation.
- Be mindful of repetitive strain injuries. Pregnant women are at a greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome because fluid retention can increase pressure inside the carpal tunnel of the wrist and irritate the median nerve. Try to limit repetitive tasks, and make your workstation as comfortable as possible.
- Request workplace modifications. If your workstation is starting to cause you pain, ask for an ergonomic evaluation. Don't hesitate to ask for wrist guards, splints, or other equipment that can prevent repetitive strain injuries.
- Reduce stress. If you can't eliminate a stress factor in your workplace, try to find ways to manage it, such as stretching, doing deep-breathing exercises or yoga, or simply taking a short walk.
- Rest when you can. The more strenuous your job is, the more you should scale back your physical activity outside of work.
- Take time off if needed. If you find yourself feeling extremely fatigued, take an occasional sick day to rest. Or use an hour or two of vacation time here and there to shorten your workdays. If you're so tired that you just can't focus at work, find a private spot or go out to your car and use 15 minutes of your lunch break to take a quick nap.
- Don’t overdo it. Refuse offers of overtime, especially if you’re exhausted or if your job requires physical activity.
- Accept help. If your co-workers want to baby you a little – and you don't mind – let them. Consider yourself lucky to be in a supportive workplace. This is a rare and special time in your life, and it would be a shame to have to pretend that nothing has changed every day when you're at work.
What should I ask co-workers who've been through this?
If you're lucky enough to be in a workplace where there are other mothers of young children or other pregnant women, seek out their support and advice at an appropriate time. You might want to ask your more experienced colleagues questions such as:
- What was your maternity leave proposal like?
- What kind of response did you get from your boss and colleagues when you announced your pregnancy?
- How did you stay productive during the fatigue of the last trimester?
- How did you handle absentmindedness?
- Are there any on-site support groups – casual or organized – for parents?
- What's your approach to balancing work and family?
- Have you been able to work out a flexible schedule?
If or when you return to work, the relationships you forge now will probably only grow stronger as you move from being pregnant to becoming a parent.
What pregnancy complications might mean I have to stop working?
You may have to stop working or to reduce your hours during your pregnancy if:
- You're at risk for preterm labor. This includes women who are expecting twins or more multiples.
- You have high blood pressure or are at risk for preeclampsia.
- You've been diagnosed with placenta previa.
- You have a cervical insufficiency or a history of late miscarriage.
- Your baby isn't growing properly.
What are my options if I can't work because of a pregnancy complication?
If a prenatal complication prevents you from being able to work as you did before you were pregnant, you may be considered temporarily disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
If your company is a "covered employer" (has at least 15 employees), your boss may be obligated to make accommodations such as temporarily assigning you less physical work or allowing you to work from home.
If you can't work at all, you may be entitled to paid or unpaid time off, depending on what your employer offers other workers with temporary disabilities. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) states that covered employers must treat pregnant workers who are unable to do their job the same as any other worker with a temporary disability. That includes providing the same disability leave or leave without pay.
Also, if your company has at least 50 employees, it's covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and is required to offer eligible workers 12 weeks of paid or unpaid time off within a 12-month period for a pregnancy-related absence or to take care of a newborn.
What if my boss is not supportive?
Some employers are very understanding when it comes to their employees' pregnancies, and they go out of their way to make things easier. Others are far less compassionate. Some even make rude comments or complain openly about how your pregnancy is making things difficult for them.
But no one can discriminate against you because you're pregnant – employers with at least 15 employees have to comply with the PDA and ADA.
If you can't do the things you used to do – for example, standing for long periods of time or doing heavy lifting – your employer has to treat you the same as any other employee with a temporary disability. In other words, if you ask for a less strenuous assignment, the ADA says you can't be refused, as long as the change doesn't cause your employer undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense).
And if you need to take a leave of absence due to a pregnancy complication, the PDA says your employer needs to offer you the same leave options as other workers with a temporary disability.
(Note: If your company isn't covered by the ADA or PDA, check with the U.S. Department of Labor to see if your state has similar nondiscrimination employment laws.)
Some bosses are reluctant to accommodate pregnancy-related changes and may not be empathetic to your needs. If you find that your boss is being especially hard on you, it's up to you to decide whether to continue working at the job, based on what's best for your family and your growing baby.
For more information on pregnancy discrimination, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
What if I have to travel for work?
Most women can travel safely during pregnancy, but talk to your doctor first, especially if it’s late in your pregnancy or if you're going far from home. It's a good idea to carry a copy of your medical records with you in case of an emergency, and check ahead to see what kind of medical care is available at your destination. At the same time, you can find out what your health insurance will cover when you're away from home.
If you have a choice, the best time to travel is during your second trimester. This is when it's likely that you'll be past the morning sickness of the first trimester and not yet feeling the fatigue of the final trimester.
Airlines usually restrict travel for women at the end of pregnancy. If you have to fly after your second trimester, talk to the airline about their pregnancy regulations.
What if my job is strenuous?
If you work in certain occupations, you might need to make modifications during your pregnancy. Some studies have shown that women who work at physically strenuous jobs during pregnancy – which may include heavy lifting, standing for long periods, and irregular or excessive hours – are more likely to deliver prematurely, have a low-birth-weight baby, and develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Be straightforward with your doctor about what your job entails so she can help you come up with a plan that makes sense for your situation. If you have a strenuous job, you'll have to decide how you can accommodate your pregnancy.
If you have to stand for long periods, take breaks and sit down as often as you can. And when you're standing, walk in place periodically or do gentle stretches to keep your blood flowing.
If possible, switch to a type of work that is less physically taxing. For example, you might change tasks with a co-worker so that you do the desk work while she handles the responsibilities that require walking and standing.
If this isn't an option, try to take an occasional sick day or vacation day to relieve fatigue and reduce the number of hours you work or the time you spend on your feet (especially toward the end of the second trimester and during the third).
Many women try to save up sick and vacation days to use for maternity leave, but try to balance that with the need to maintain a healthy pregnancy and your general well-being. If you feel run down and need to take a day off occasionally, listen to your body and rest at home.
What should I do if I work around toxic substances?
Discuss it with your doctor. If you work at a job where you come into contact with known reproductive hazards – such as heavy metals (like lead and mercury), organic solvents or other chemicals, certain biologic agents, or radiation – you'll need to change your work environment.
These substances are teratogens, meaning they can cause such problems as miscarriage, preterm delivery, structural birth defects, and abnormal fetal and infant development if you are exposed to them during or even prior to pregnancy. These hazards are commonly found in computer chip factories, dry-cleaning plants, rubber factories, operating rooms, darkrooms, tollbooths, nail salons, pottery studios, ship-building plants, and printing presses, to name a few.
Ask your employer to provide you with information about any harmful substances you may be exposed to at work. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires that chemical manufacturers and importers thoroughly evaluate the chemicals they produce and create a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to let users know about potential hazards. Your employer should be able to provide you with an MSDS for any chemical you may come in contact with.
If you have any concerns about health hazards at your workplace, bring the MSDS with you to your appointment and discuss them with your healthcare provider. Also, let your caregiver know if your partner is routinely exposed to hazardous substances.
For more information, contact these organizations:
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at https://www.osha.gov/
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/
- Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) at https://mothertobaby.org/