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How to Make Working While You’re Pregnant Work

Graffiti in Lebanon via Wikimedia CommonsBy the time I found out I was pregnant, my high school students already had their suspicions. How could they help it? I was missing first period classes and running out of the room to throw up. While I eventually learned to handle both pregnancy and work, I learned the hard way how difficult those two facets of life can be to balance.

Pregnancy is never easy, but working through a pregnancy creates a unique set of challenges all its own. Luckily, with a little bit of planning and foresight, you can learn to live with the changes in how you feel, what you can do, and where you’ll invest your time. And learning to cope with these changes during pregnancy means you’ll be better prepared for your life post-delivery.


At Work


Make sure your work is baby-safe.

Some kinds of work can be potentially harmful to your unborn baby. Get a green light from your obstetrician to continue working. You may need to talk to your supervisor about temporarily changing roles if your job includes any of the following:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Extreme temperatures, hot or cold
  • Excessive noise or vibrations
  • High stress
  • Extended standing

Many employers are required by law to make accommodations to protect pregnant women from these potential hazards.


Share your news as soon as you’re ready.

I was so sick when I was pregnant that I couldn’t keep my pregnancy secret past eight weeks! In my experience, the sooner your boss and co-workers know you’re pregnant, the sooner they can help you make sure your work is safe and comfortable. Depending on the community at work, your co-workers will probably be excited to celebrate with you. No matter what you decide about sharing your good news, tell your boss before he finds out from someone else—or your bulging belly turns into the elephant in the room.


Ask for help.

Our mothers and grandmothers may have had to fight to be taken seriously in the workplace, but thanks to their hard work, most of us have nothing to prove by stoicism during pregnancy. Especially during the first and third trimester, ask for help and support from your co-workers when you need it. They can carry heavy boxes, cover a class, or find somewhere else to eat their tuna and sauerkraut sandwich. More than likely, they will be happy to help. Just make sure you return the favor when they have a burden of their own.


Sit right.

Ergonomics are even more important when you’re pregnant. You may need a footstool, lumbar-support cushion, or document holder to make your workspace more comfortable. Toward the end of your pregnancy, you may even need to raise your desk to accommodate your baby belly. Change your position frequently. If your job is sedentary, get up at least once an hour for a short walk. If your job requires standing up, take frequent sitting breaks.


Fight for your rights.

What if your workplace’s reaction to your pregnancy isn’t all positive? Particularly if you work for the government or a company with more than 15 employees, you have certain protections you from discrimination or harassment—and a right to time off to spend with your baby. See the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for more information.


At Home


Set a routine.

A clear routine is an invaluable asset for new parents, but it is also a great tool for making it through pregnancy. Wake up around the same time every morning, even on weekends. Know in advance what you’ll have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Put everything you’ll need the next day by the door or in the car before you go to bed at night. The more of your day is automatic, the more energy you’ll have leftover for taking care of your home, your work, your partner, and yourself.


Get a good breakfast.

No matter how sick you feel, it is not a good idea to skip breakfast—especially when you’re pregnant. Breakfast can not only settle a queasy stomach, it will also give you the energy to start your day off on the right foot.


Keep a list.

Even the most reliable memory cannot always withstand the hormonal changes and new stresses of pregnancy. Keep an up-to-date calendar (possibly a shared on-line calendar with your partner) and a to-do list. Lists and calendars are key if you want to prevent the guilt and embarrassment of forgotten appointments and broken commitments. Plus you’ll get the satisfaction of checking things off your list once you have done them.


Eat and drink.

Pregnancy makes balancing your blood sugar more difficult than ever before. Eat frequent, small meals. Carry high-protein snacks like peanut-butter crackers or dry-roasted nuts in case of emergency. Do your best not to work through lunch—hurried eating can aggravate pregnancy heartburn.


Watch your diet.

Good nutrition is important during pregnancy, not only for your baby, but also for you. Be sure to get plenty of protein and iron, even if you have to find alternatives to your favorite meats. (The smell of chicken made me queasy for nine straight months, but I couldn’t eat the sushi and deli meats I craved.) Avoid refined sugars and excess carbohydrates, which can lead to gestational diabetes or unhealthy fetal weight gain. Talk to your obstetrician about the right pregnancy diet for you.


Cut yourself some slack.

Pregnancy is great training for the rest of your life. Something has to give to make space in your life for pregnancy and child-rearing—frequently that something is housework. Prioritize what really needs to get done, like cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, over dusting, vacuuming, or cleaning windows. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner, close friends, or relatives for help, so long as you’re willing to graciously accept that their best efforts may not be quite up to your standards. If you have the means, even a bi-weekly visit from a cleaning company can make a big difference in your workload at home.


Get some exercise.

Unless your obstetrician tells you otherwise, exercise is one of the best ways to feel physically and emotionally better during your pregnancy. Whether it’s a gentle prenatal yoga DVD or a walk with your partner after dinner, exercise will help you build up stamina, manage your weight, and boost happy-making hormones in your brain. I cannot say enough positive things about the prenatal water aerobics class I told through my local YMCA: I had a great time, and I was visibly less bloated every time I went for a swim.


Reflect.

You may not feel stressed, but pregnancy is an anxiety-ridden time. Start an evening reflection ritual to boost communication with your partner. Or find some other way to beat stress like a long walk, prayer, or a prenatal massage. Try to make time out a part of your day before a baby makes reflective time even more precious.


Go to bed early.

Sleep becomes more elusive as your pregnancy progresses, but don’t let that stop you from trying to climb into bed in time for your full eight hours. If you can’t sleep, do something low-key like knitting or reading. (Avoid computers and T.V. before bed.) Pay attention to the things that make sleep difficult—my husband had to move to the guest bed for the last month of pregnancy because I couldn’t take both his movement and the movement of my son.


Watch out for signs of perinatal depression.

Many cases of perinatal depression (depression during pregnancy) and post-partum depression go undiagnosed because the excessive crying, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability that are normal during pregnancy are also symptoms of depression. So what does perinatal depression look like?:

  • Crying from excessive sadness you can’t explain (not just from a sentimental movie or commercial) or for an unusual amount of time
  • Exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep or exercise
  • Difficulty concentrating that severely impairs your ability to function at home or in the workplace
  • Irritability that erupts into something you can’t control
  • The desire to die or persistent thoughts of suicide

These symptoms are not a normal part of pregnancy! You haven’t done anything wrong, but it is important you talk to your obstetrician right away. Be sure you are honest about your concerns. If your OB-GYN dismisses you, seek another opinion as soon as possible. (Perinatal depression may be as harmful for your baby as it is for you!) A suicide plan is a medical emergency and requires emergency medical care.


For most women, pregnancy is a mixed bag of good and bad. By finding ways to take care of yourself—and to let others take care of you—you can set yourself up for a happier, healthier pregnancy.


Been there done that? What advice do you have for other women who work through their pregnancies?

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