Pregnancy can be a rollercoaster of emotions, especially during the early stages when hormones keep flooding your body and you’re adapting to the knowledge of the growing life inside of you. If you work in a high-risk environment or have a very demanding job, you may be wondering how you’ll cope or whether you’ll be able to continue working throughout your pregnancy.
My job during my 1st pregnancy was not physically taxing, but I had long daily commutes coupled with very long and stressful working hours. Then I often had after-hours work commitments and would worry if working would compromise my baby’s health. I’d only just started in the position, so the concern that news of my pregnancy could affect my job security was valid.
What are my rights as a pregnant woman at work?
Federal law protects the rights of pregnant women in the US, although discrimination still exists. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 states that any company with more than 15 employees may not discriminate against pregnancy with regards to hiring, firing, earnings, assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and fringe benefits such as leave and health insurance.
Before telling my employer and colleagues about my pregnancy, my husband and I sat together and reviewed what benefits I would and wouldn’t be entitled to. Then I sent an email to my employer to notify her of my pregnancy and had a private conversation with my manager. She was very supportive and agreed to regularly discuss any aspects of my work that could be a cause of concern as my pregnancy progressed.
We also agreed that I would keep 2 of my colleagues up to speed with my work so that if I experienced complications at any stage or when it was time for my maternity leave, they would cover for me. Once I had spoken with my employer, I felt comfortable telling my colleagues about my pregnancy, and because I worked in quite a big department, I shared the news by email.
Health and safety at work while pregnant
Is there work to avoid during pregnancy? Most women continue working while pregnant as there’s usually no reason to stop working if your pregnancy is healthy. However, when you’re working in an unsuitable or hazardous environment, you should consider other factors in play. Health and safety regulations are set with non-pregnant adults in mind, so you need to discuss any possible workplace hazards with your employer.
Protective equipment such as masks or coats may not fit correctly. Some chemicals may be dangerous for a developing fetus, and therefore changes to your own metabolism might place you at additional risk. When you’re pregnant, the lung capacity slightly reduces, parts of your immune system become suppressed, and your ligaments loosen due to an increase in progesterone which may affect joint stability.
Some physiological changes during pregnancy can place you at increased risk of illness or injury and should be taken into consideration. Many employers are willing to adjust a pregnant employee’s duties or provide extra safety measures, so it’s important to be honest about your pregnancy and concerns.
It’s generally deemed safe to lift weights of up to 25 pounds (11.3 kgs) if you have a healthy pregnancy. As long as your changing body doesn’t affect your ability to work safely, there’s no reason to stop operating heavy machinery if that’s part of your job.
You need to inform your employer about your pregnancy as early as possible so they can identify and assess risks and implement appropriate protective measures as soon as possible if required. Use the workplace pregnancy policy to inform the decisions you make with your employer regarding managing your work while pregnant.
Companies may have different pregnancy policies in place, with some offering benefits above the required government minimum. Some employers might have policies that allow you to work from home on a full-time or occasional basis or may consider a reduction in your working hours as your pregnancy progresses.
If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you need to work with your health care provider to make an informed decision about continuing to work. Your doctor may recommend pregnancy sick leave or order bed rest if he thinks you or your baby may be at risk. Familiarize yourself with your company’s maternity leave policy and the government-mandated cover for pregnant women.
You can’t be forced to undertake tasks that don’t comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, including exposure to radiation while pregnant. While you shouldn’t use pregnancy as an excuse to skip work, employers are usually expected to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.
What can I do to improve my workplace experience?
Here are several ways to improve your working conditions and avoid workplace stress while pregnant:
- Deal with morning sickness. I experienced severe morning sickness in my 1st trimester. Although nausea would hit mid-morning, having bland snacks and ginger tea nearby and avoiding the kitchen area where people heated their lunches helped minimize the sickness level.
- Keep moving. Being at least moderately physically active is essential. I spent most of my day at my desk and had to make small adjustments to keep moving. I bought an exercise ball to sit on at my desk to keep my core muscles active. I would also stand up and take short walks around the office at least once an hour and made it a habit to go outside during my lunch break and not just eat at my desk.
- Eat healthy foods and drink enough fluids. I found it helpful to carry a water bottle with a specified volume to know that I needed to top up my intake thrice daily. I learned how to plan my work lunches and ensure I prepared plenty of fresh foods and easy snacks to keep my blood sugar in check.
- Plan your hours. I was able to identify ways to work smarter, which reduced my work hours slightly. Working with a list and not allowing unnecessary pressure on myself with tasks that weren’t mine reduced my workplace stressors.
- Manage your calendar. Plan your doctor’s appointments carefully to avoid work disruption. An appointment before work or during your lunch hour is good, especially if you can book the first appointment of the day to avoid delays.
How long before giving birth should I stop working?
Unless specified by your employer, you can keep working right until your due date. However, going for maternity leave a week or 2 before you’re due gives you time to make last-minute arrangements meaning you don’t get to worry about going into labor at work.
What kind of maternity leave can I get?
The US is one of the few countries where no mandated paid maternity leave policy exists. A 2019 UNICEF report that analyzed which of the world’s wealthiest countries were family-friendly ranked it last as the only country which offered no national paid leave. The United States Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires that companies employing more than 50 employees must provide 12 weeks of annual unpaid leave for mothers of newborns or newly adopted children.
This means that women working for smaller companies may not enjoy this right. However, several states have adopted laws that extend this right to women in smaller companies, while some have laws in place that govern paid family leave. If you’re sick or unable to work due to a pregnancy-related condition, you can take a portion of your unpaid maternity leave even before giving birth.
Good jobs to work while pregnant
Is there such a thing as a “good job” for pregnant women? You can carry out most of the jobs while pregnant, although some pose a higher risk to you and your baby. If you’re looking for places to work while pregnant, there are some factors to consider:
- What degree of physical exertion is required by the position?
- Is the job emotionally taxing?
- Are working hours flexible, and is time off offered for doctor’s appointments?
- Does the company provide medical benefits? Will you be exposed to any toxins?
- Is there a private space to pump milk or nurse if necessary?
Being pregnant while working in a demanding job has its challenges. Still, it’s possible to find the right balance between your work life and your personal life with open communication and careful planning. This will help you ensure you can continue working and still have a healthy pregnancy.