All About Working During Pregnancy

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Pregnancy is a time of excitement, but it can also be a time of uncertainty or worry.

If you work, you may be stressing about telling your boss you’re expecting. You may even have concerns about certain job duties that may put you or your baby at risk.

Here’s what you need to know about safely working through your pregnancy, your rights, and some tips on when and how to tell your employer you’re pregnant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, most people are able to continue working while pregnant. That said, the safety of your job depends on factors such as:

  • what you do for a living
  • your health status
  • any complications you may have with your pregnancy

Speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your job or if your employment exposes you to any of the following risks:

  • chemicals, radiation, or other dangerous materials
  • long periods of standing or climbing
  • carrying or lifting heavy loads
  • loud noises or vibrations from heavy machinery
  • extreme heat or cold

The number of hours and even time of day when you work may also be a factor.

2014 studyTrusted Source of Japanese women uncovered that those who worked more than 40 hours each week were at higher risk of miscarriage and preterm labor. And the more hours worked (51–70 hours and 71+ hours), the higher the risk.

This risk was also highest in the first trimester.

A Danish study from 2019 revealed that people who work at least two night shifts per week may be at higher risk of miscarriage (32 percent) than those who work during the day.

The theory for why involves your circadian rhythm and how the body releases a hormone called melatonin, which plays a role in protecting the placenta.

Related: Miscarriage risk and night shift work

Safe to work or not, you may be feeling all sorts of ways due to early pregnancy symptoms.

Here’s how you can cope with these on the job. But if you experience pain, cramping, spotting, or any other worrisome symptoms, contact your doctor.

Morning sickness

Nausea and vomiting can start early in pregnancy. If you’re feeling ill, try your best to identify your triggers and avoid them.

Eating small meals and snacks made of bland foods (like breads, crackers, applesauce) throughout the day can help. Ginger tea or ginger ale may also bring you some relief.

If you have severe morning sickness, it may be helpful to let your employer know about your pregnancy. Of course, this isn’t required.

But if you’re missing work or ducking out to use the bathroom frequently, they’ll better understand what’s going on and (hopefully) empathize with the situation.

Fatigue

You may be particularly exhausted in the first trimester and again as you near your due date.

Make sure you’re getting plenty of rest during nonwork hours. For example, experts share you need 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep each night during pregnancy.

And you may want to consider lightening your load after work if you’re tired or sick. Try getting help with responsibilities like grocery shopping, yard work, and house cleaning — or at least don’t expect yourself to do it all when you’re not feeling your best.

Hydration

Your hydration needs increase when you’re pregnant. Experts recommend getting 8 to 12 cups of fluids each day. Consider keeping a large water bottle at your desk so you have a convenient water source.

Frequent urination

Along with more hydration, you may find yourself needing to visit the restroom more than usual. If your supervisor allows, consider taking short and frequent breaks versus longer and less frequent ones.

Holding your urine for too long can weaken your bladder and may even lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) over time.

Back or pelvic pain

You may have more aches and pains throughout your body as hormones loosen your ligaments and joints. In particular, your back or pelvis may hurt as your belly grows.

Tips to ease discomfort include:

  • Wear supportive shoes, like sneakers, if your job involves lots of standing or moving around.
  • Pay attention to your posture when lifting, and lift with your lower body rather than your back.
  • Take breaks as necessary to give your body a rest. If you’re standing for long periods, try propping one of your feet onto a box or stool to lessen back strain. If you’re sitting for long periods, maintain good posture as much as possible and support your lower back with a small pillow.
  • Consider wearing a pregnancy support belt to ease the strain of your belly on your back and pelvis.
  • Use heating pads or ice packs to ease soreness. (Just don’t place heating pads on your belly.) If pain gets worse, contact your doctor for additional comfort measures.

Your employer may be able to provide you with certain accommodations that make your job safer. And if you’re unable to do your job duties temporarily due to your pregnancy, complications, or birth, your employer may not discriminate against you.

Instead, you’re entitled to be treated as other workers with a temporary disability. This means that you may be given light duty, different assignments, or even disability or unpaid leave — provided these measures are also available to other workers with a temporary disability.

Disability? While pregnancy isn’t traditionally considered a disability, certain pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

More information and details about what conditions apply can be found here.

Keep in mind that different states and different workplaces have varying policies. If you have questions about your rights, contact your job’s human resources (HR) department.

There’s no set standard for when you should tell your employer about your pregnancy.

You may feel comfortable letting them know right away. Or, alternatively, you might want to keep the news private for a variety of reasons.

Here are some considerations for when you should share your news:

  • You may want to share sooner rather than later if your job involves heavy lifting, exposure to chemicals, or other hazards.
  • You may want to share early if you’re feeling particularly sick or experiencing pregnancy complications that necessitate additional doctor visits or rest.
  • You may want to wait if you have a promotion or performance review coming up and think the news may impact your rating.
  • You may choose to take your time if you have concerns about how your boss might take the news.

There isn’t a specific week you must tell your employer by, but keep in mind that you’ll start to show eventually.

And if you’ve told others at your workplace, the word may get around. Your boss would rather hear the news from you than through the grapevine or social media.

Here are some tips for telling your boss:

  • Look into your workplace’s policies surrounding pregnancy before you bring up your pregnancy. This information may be in an employee handbook or on an internal website. If you can’t find this information, consider contacting HR for help.
  • Set an appointment to discuss your pregnancy rather than mentioning it in passing. This will give you both time to ask questions and brainstorm solutions to any issues that either of you foresees.
  • Bring a list of ideas for switching duties with co-workers during your pregnancy and possible coverage during your subsequent leave after birth. While your boss may not take your suggestions, it’ll show initiative that you thought of these matters.
  • Discuss how much time you’re thinking you’ll take off after your child is born. If you haven’t decided yet, be honest about that, too. It may also help if you’ve looked into your childcare options beforehand.
  • Keep the tone positive overall. You don’t need to apologize for your pregnancy. This is a joyous time. Assure your employer that you’re a valuable part of the team and that that’s not changing just because you’re pregnant.
  • Get help. If you suspect your boss won’t be enthusiastic about your news, you might consider bringing a representative from HR to your appointment with you.
  • Follow up in writing after your meeting. You may want to send a letter or email to your boss and HR to get down in writing the plan you discussed. Doing so will help avoid any issues as time goes on.

As you may have already gathered, you’ll need time off every once in a while for prenatal appointments.

As your pregnancy progresses, these appointments may become more frequent. You may even end up having extra tests or appointments if you experience complications.

Be transparent with your employer about your need for time to fit in these appointments. Seeing your doctor regularly is key to maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

One option you might explore is asking for a flexible schedule.

Flex schedules will vary depending on your workplace, but they can include (among other options):

  • coming in late and leaving later in the day
  • coming in early and leaving earlier in the day
  • shifting your lunch break to come in late or leave early
  • working more hours on certain days of the week and having a day off

If a flex schedule isn’t an option, here are some tips for scheduling your appointments:

  • Consider making your appointments during your lunch hour or on a day off, if possible. While not always an option, scheduling your appointments when you’re not usually at work means you get to keep more of your sick time to use toward paid leave.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if they offer alternative hours. Some offices may offer evening or weekend appointments to accommodate busy work schedules.
  • Try to inform your employer of your appointments with as much advance notice as possible. This way they may get coverage for your duties well ahead of time, if necessary.
  • Have your calendar handy when making appointments so you don’t experience conflicts with any standing meetings or required tasks.
  • If you have a partner, have them ask their workplace about any guidelines for taking time off to attend appointments with you.

You’ll need time to heal after birth. Plus, you’ll be working on establishing breastfeeding routines and other essential rhythms, like sleep.

Short-term disability usually provides you with 6 weeks of paid time off after uncomplicated vaginal birth and 8 weeks after cesarean delivery, commonly referred to as a C-section.

You may also qualify for leave before birth if you have certain complications.

Beyond that, your workplace may have its own maternity or paternity leave program. Be sure to check in with HR to get the details on:

  • what’s available to you
  • when you must request leave
  • what forms or other information (like doctor notes) you’ll need to provide

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) lets parents to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for their infant. The leave may be paid or unpaid, depending on how much sick leave you’ve accrued.

To be eligible, you must have worked for your current employer for at least 1 year (12 months) before taking the leave and your workplace must have at least 50 employees (private sector) or be a public agency, public school, or private school.

Think about how much leave you’ll want beforehand so you can communicate it with your employer. But keep in mind that how much time you’ll need or want may change depending on a number of factors.

FMLA dictates that upon returning to work, you must be offered your original job or an equivalent role that provides the same pay and benefits.

More information about FMLA can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor website.

Even the best plans may change as you near your due date. Your doctor may suggest leaving work early if you experience health complications, like preterm labor.

Symptoms of preterm labor include:

  • abdominal cramping, pain, or pressure
  • watery, bloody, or other discharge from the vagina
  • increased discharge of any kind
  • back pain or ache
  • painful or painless contractions that come regularly or frequently
  • rupture of membranes (also known as your water breaking)

Of course, preterm labor isn’t the only complication you may experience that would impact your ability to work. Beyond actual conditions, you may not be sleeping well or have other physical complaints, like swelling, that make your job uncomfortable.

Discuss complications and symptoms with your healthcare provider. Your doctor may have suggestions for how you can be more comfortable at work, or they may be able to write you a note to get certain accommodations.

If work doesn’t seem safe at any time, your doctor may also suggest you take some leave early and go on bed rest.

Related: 23 ways to kill time on bed rest

You can safely work through your pregnancy and beyond.

Each pregnancy and each job situation is unique, however. Your best bet is to do your research and contact your HR department for any details specific to where you work.

Your doctor is another good resource for any concerns you have about your health or your baby’s health related to your work responsibilities.

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