The nine-to-five grind is tough for most people, let alone when you’re expecting. Most women continue to work during pregnancy but it can present challenges in the workplace.
In the early stages, you may struggle with fatigue and morning sickness and as your pregnancy progresses you may just feel plain uncomfortable, whether you’re on your feet all day or work in an office.
To stay healthy and productive on the job, here’s how you can alleviate common pregnancy ailments – and some advice on why sticking to your usual routine can help you prepare for bub’s arrival.
IN THE BEGINNING
During the early stages of pregnancy, managing fatigue and morning sickness at work can be a hassle. To boost your energy reserves, skip late-night TV and hit the sack early, aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Fatigue can be a symptom of iron deficiency, so including red meat, seafood, leafy green vegetables and beans in your diet may help you to feel less tired. Swapping your car for public transport may also give you some time to relax on your daily commute.
Drink plenty of water to help keep your body at a regular temperature, and take short, frequent breaks if you can. Ask a colleague if you can use their office to close your eyes or pop into the break room when it’s empty – just a few minutes of rest can help you to recharge.
Morning sickness can hit at any time of the day, but regular snacks and calming foods like ginger can help. Keep a stash of dried biscuits and ginger tea in your desk drawer or handbag. When the smell of reheated food wafting in from the lunch room is enough to put you off your own lunch, take your break a few minutes before your colleagues and head outside for some fresh air.
If you’re yet to announce to your workplace that you’re expecting, managing pregnancy symptoms with nosey colleagues can be tricky. Dr Nicole Highet, founder and executive director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), suggests sticking to partial truths.
“Just say you’re not feeling well and think you’re coming down with a virus,” she says. “Or say you’re feeling tired or describe some of the symptoms, but unless you’re ready to announce your pregnancy it’s just a case of being honest about how you’re feeling, especially if you need to take sick leave or want understanding from other people.”
Once your good news is out in the open and your pregnancy progresses into the second and third trimesters, Dr Gary Swift, an obstetrician and vice president
of the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says leg cramps, varicose veins, heartburn and a growing belly can make ordinary workplace activities like sitting and standing for long periods very uncomfortable. For office workers, adjustable chairs with back support can help to counteract all that sitting, while comfortable shoes with good arch support and compression stockings are must-haves if you have to stand.
Even if you feel nervous, Dr Swift says speaking to your manager about the things that will help to ease your discomfort is the best strategy. “You need the flexibility to go to the toilet as often as you need or to perhaps swap a large lunch break for several smaller breaks,” he says.
Dr Highet agrees: “If you develop a good relationship with your employer and are open and honest, and think about your needs but also know what you’re entitled to, there’s usually a pretty good outcome.”
For jobs that involve tasks that may not be safe to carry out while you’re pregnant – such as heavy lifting, stair climbing and working in hot environments – talk to your manager about changing your duties. And if you’re feeling especially unwell, don’t feel shy about taking sick leave.
A SMOOTH TRANSITION
Even though you may not always feel like it, sticking to your usual workday routine can help you to feel well throughout your pregnancy and create a smooth transition to motherhood. “Sometimes life going on as normal to some degree is important during pregnancy,” says Dr Highet. “There are emotional benefits of staying connected to other people at work as it’s an opportunity to stay engaged and not become isolated.”
Plus, focusing on the parts of life that are changing can put a lot of pressure on mums- to-be. “Part of adapting to parenthood is continuing on with other aspects of your life – obviously you’ve got new priorities and focus, but the rest of life goes on,” says Dr Highet. “So in some ways working through pregnancy normalises that balance.”
WHEN TO FINISH UP
If you have a healthy pregnancy it’s really up to you when you start maternity leave. “Some women glide through pregnancy and have no medical problems, and there’s no doubt those women can work until they’re comfortable finishing,” says Dr Swift. Stopping work from about 36 weeks – or 34 weeks if you have a manual job – allows time to relax and prepare for the impending chaos of life with a newborn. Most workplaces will assume you’ll finish up four to six weeks before your due date and may ask for a medical certificate if you want to keep working.
For those who have experienced any complications, your doctor may recommend finishing work earlier. “If you have elevated blood pressure, which affects one in 10 women in their first pregnancy, or other complications, particularly those that threaten pre-term labour, you may need to be restrictive in the third trimester,” says Dr Swift. “We often recommend that work be ceased in that scenario or at least modified.”