Working While Pregnant: How to Handle It

Doing the 9-to-5 thing can be tough when you're pregnant, but the right planning can help you meet the challenges.

Balancing Work & Pregnancy

Sometimes, being pregnant can feel as if it's a full-time job. And that is a problem if you've already got a full-time job -- the kind that requires you to be at your desk, not at the doctor's, or to be pleasant to clients even when you feel like you're about to barf. But don't worry. We have advice on how to handle the major issues you'll face at the office in the coming months.

Making the Announcement

You'll be tempted to spill your secret right away, but conventional wisdom says it's a good idea to keep your pregnancy on the down low until your first trimester is over and the risk of miscarriage drops dramatically. Whenever you decide to announce the news, make sure your boss is the first one to know; you want her to hear it straight from you, not through the office grapevine.

Schedule an appointment to tell her that you're expecting and to let her know when your baby is due. Keep your tone positive and upbeat, and spare any overly personal details. (Whatever you do, don't pull that sonogram image out of your purse!) "Be prepared with a general idea of your company's maternity-leave policy, but don't talk about your specific plans for time off just yet," says Marjorie Greenfield, MD, author of The Working Woman's Pregnancy Book. "Right now, your boss needs reassurance from you that your productivity won't be affected." Once you've clued your boss in, you can share the news with as many, or as few, people as possible. Pretty soon, even the guy in the mail room will know.

Managing the Symptoms on the Job

Despite its discomforts, pregnancy isn't a ticket to slack off at work. And thankfully, there are lots of ways to curb your symptoms so they don't interfere with your job performance. If you have "morning sickness" (and up to 85 percent of pregnant women do -- though not necessarily only in the A.M.), the best advice is to eat, eat, eat. "Constantly snacking kept my queasiness at bay, so I kept Kashi bars and Goldfish in the pockets of my white coat all the time," says Lindsay Mazotti, MD, a physician in San Francisco. Small, healthy snacks throughout the day can keep your blood sugar steady and curb nausea. Many women find that ginger ale, gingersnaps, or lemon drops are helpful, too, says Dr. Greenfield. Just in case, grab a seat by the door during meetings so you can make a quick exit if you start to feel nauseated. If your symptoms are really severe, consider asking your doctor about medication.

Your biggest challenge will probably be fighting fatigue. "When I was pregnant with my twins, I was so exhausted that once I snuck a nap in the supply closet," says Jane Roper, an advertising copywriter in Boston. To boost your energy, get moving. A brisk walk at lunchtime can do wonders, says Nancy W. Hall, PhD, author of Balancing Pregnancy and Work. And something as simple as chewing mint-flavored gum is instantly refreshing. Try getting to bed a little earlier too.

Squeezing In Appointments

Schedule doctor's appointments wisely -- plan them for before work or during your lunch break if your ob-gyn is close by, and try to be the first patient in a morning or an afternoon session. That way, the doctor is less likely to be running late. Still, waiting is inevitable: Always take along some light busywork so you won't feel too frustrated if you get stuck.

It's also important to schedule your appointments according to your work calendar -- completely avoid days when you know you have your weekly meeting or monthly presentation. Occasionally, your doctor may need you to stay for additional tests or treatment, and you don't want to have the added stress of missing an important work function.

Getting Ready for Maternity Leave

Before you can say goodbye to work, you need to hammer out the details of your leave. (See "How Much Time Off to Take?") A month in advance, tell your boss the precise day you expect to stop working and a tentative date that you'll be back. "Setting a return date helps your colleagues see the light at the end of the tunnel," says Dr. Greenfield.

A few weeks before you leave, make a list of all the tasks you're responsible for, and offer suggestions to your supervisor about how to get them covered by coworkers. Talk to your boss about what work issues (if any) you want to know about while you're away, and let her know how she can reach you. Just be sure not to overextend yourself by promising too much too soon. Your priority in those first few weeks is to let your body recover and enjoy your new baby.

How Much Time Off to Take?

The U.S. is one of only four industrialized nations that doesn't require all employers to offer paid maternity leave. But don't freak out yet. About half of new moms manage to get it, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Arm yourself with this information before you approach your boss.

Company policy Check your employee handbook or company Web site to find out what your employer officially offers. Then talk to other new moms to find out how much leave they took and what portion of it was paid. Many employers expect workers to use sick days, vacation time, and their short-term disability insurance (usually for six weeks) to cover the "paid" portion of their leave.

State laws So far, New Jersey, California, and Washington have passed laws requiring certain employers to give new parents time off with pay. Other states have laws mandating certain amounts of unpaid leave.

Could Your Job Be Dangerous?

Most women work at jobs that are fully compatible with a normal and uncomplicated pregnancy, but certain occupations can put a mom-to-be and her baby at risk. Talk to your doctor if your job involves any of the following:

See what physical changes you can expect during month 3 of pregnancy--and how to break the big news to your boss.

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