Can I work throughout my pregnancy?
If you’re a healthy woman having a normal pregnancy and you work in a safe environment, you may be able to continue working while pregnant until the day you deliver or close to it.
Toward the end of your pregnancy, though, you may tire more easily, so take it as easy as possible.
And don’t be a martyr — 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 bit, since it may be the last time you have for yourself in a while.
What if I work a strenuous job?
In certain occupations, you might need to make some modifications during your pregnancy.
Some studies have shown that women who work physically strenuous jobs during pregnancy (including heavy lifting, standing for long periods, physical jobs with excessive hours, and other variables) are more likely to deliver prematurely, have lower birth-weight babies, and develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.
If you do work a strenuous job, you’ll have to decide how you can best accommodate your pregnancy.
Ideally, it would be best if you could switch to a less strenuous job during your pregnancy.
If this isn’t possible for you, 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 toward the end of your second trimester.
Try to take breaks as often as you can. Be straightforward with your practitioner about what your job entails so she can help you come up with a plan that makes sense for your situation.
What should I do if I work around toxic substances?
You’ll need a job reassignment (preferably even before you conceive) if you work in a field where you come into contact with known reproductive hazards such as heavy metals, like lead and mercury, chemicals such as organic solvents, certain biologic agents, and radiation.
These are teratogens — agents that can cause problems like miscarriage, preterm delivery, structural birth defects, and abnormal fetal and infant development when a woman is exposed to them during or even before pregnancy.
You’re likely to come into contact with these hazards while working in places like computer chip factories, dry-cleaning plants, rubber factories, operating rooms, darkrooms, tollbooths, pottery studios, shipbuilding 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 and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that chemical manufacturers and importers thoroughly evaluate chemicals that they produce and then create a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to communicate any potential hazard to users.
Your employer should be able to provide you with an MSDS for any chemical you may be in contact with.
If you have any concerns about health hazards at your workplace, be sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider and bring the MSDS with you. (Also let your caregiver know if your partner is routinely exposed to hazardous substances.)
For more information, contact these organizations:
• OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) at http://www.osha.gov/
• NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/
• OTIS (Organization of Teratology Information Services) at http://www.otispregnancy.org/
What pregnancy complications might cause me to stop working?
Here’s a list of the most common conditions or risk factors that may cause you to stop working or decrease your hours at some point during your pregnancy:
- If you’re at risk for preterm labor (this includes women who are expecting twins or higher multiples)
- If you have high blood pressure or are at risk for preeclampsia
- If you have an incompetent cervix or a history of late miscarriage
- If your baby isn’t growing properly
How do I manage morning sickness at work?
About 70 percent of women experience some nausea or vomiting during pregnancy. Chances are, it might hit you during a workday.
If you know you’re prone to vomiting, keep 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 you’re having a particularly severe and prolonged bout — constant nausea or frequent vomiting — you may have to tell your supervisor about your pregnancy earlier than planned.
This can be tricky, as you don’t want to be perceived as a lame duck. Before you tell her, figure out what you want: Compassion? Time off? A flexible schedule until you get through the worst of it? And figure out what she wants — probably a commitment that you’ll get your work done, even if that means on your own time.
And finally, assure her that morning sickness usually ends right around the end of the third month.
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.
During the second trimester, you may feel more energetic and focused. Even though the fatigue and spaciness are normal, consider with whom at work, if anyone, you want to share those feelings. Someone who’s been there may be your best bet.
Your pregnancy, though visible, can still be private.
Since you want to continue to be perceived as a serious worker, try not to complain or talk about your pregnancy too much.
If you can grab a few moments of privacy during the day, you can do whatever you want — daydream, worry, wonder, touch your growing belly as much as you please (women do tend to touch their stomach more often when they’re pregnant) — but be prudent when you’re among your co-workers.
How can I stay most comfortable on the job?
Even if your job requires minimal standing and nothing more strenuous than lifting a telephone, make an effort to take good care of yourself while you’re pregnant. Here are some tips.
- Take breaks. Put your feet up if you’ve been standing, or stand and walk around every two hours if you’ve been sitting. This will help decrease 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.
- Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing. You might try maternity tights or support hose, too, to prevent or ease swelling and varicose veins.
- Drink a lot of water. Keep a tall glass at your station and refill it often. (This will also give you a chance to take a break.) And don’t hold it in. Go to the bathroom as often as you need to.
- Take time to eat regular meals and have nutritious snacks if you’re hungry or not gaining enough weight. Choose lunches that are balanced and nutritious whenever you can. Add fiber to your diet to ease constipation.
- Pregnant women are at greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, so be sure to take any appropriate measures you can to limit repetitive tasks and make your work situation as comfortable as possible.
- Reduce stress. If you can’t eliminate a stress factor in your workplace, try to find ways to manage it, such as stretching, performing 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 reduce physical activity outside of work. If you find yourself feeling 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, steal 15 minutes out of your lunch break for a quick catnap.
- Turn down over time, especially in jobs requiring 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, it helps to seek out their support and counsel when appropriate (and when other co-workers aren’t around). Questions you might want to ask your more experienced colleagues include:
- 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 keep up appearances and productivity 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 now?
- Have you been able to work out any kind of flexible schedule?
- And because you’ll want to keep your sense of humor, be sure to ask them: What was the funniest or most embarrassing thing that happened to you while pregnant at work?
- If you return to work, the relationships you forge now will probably only strengthen as you move from being pregnant to becoming a parent.
What do I do if my boss is not supportive?
Some employers are very understanding when it comes to their employees’ pregnancies and goes out of their way to make their jobs easier.
Others are far less compassionate. But no one can discriminate against you because you’re pregnant — employers have to comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
If you can’t do the same things you used to do — for example, standing for long periods or doing the heavy lifting — your employer has to treat just you as he would any other employee with a temporary disability.
In other words, if you ask for a less strenuous assignment, you can’t be refused.
Still, your boss isn’t required to make it easier for you to do the work you can still do. He doesn’t have to give you extra breaks or change your work schedule, for example.
So 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 growing baby.