Working While Pregnant: How to Handle It Like a Boss

Doing the 9-to-5 thing can be tough when you're pregnant, but the right research and planning can help you meet any challenges that come your way.
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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.

Don't panic, mama. Here's how to handle working while pregnant.

Your Workplace Rights During Pregnancy

The first step? Fairness. Whether you're a working parent or a working parent-to-be, you deserve to be treated fairly by your employer. As a start, get to know your legal rights and keep this information for easy reference.

Your pregnancy must be treated like any other employee disability or medical condition.

If you work for a company with 15 or more employees, it is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because of pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related conditions. Pregnancy must be treated as a temporary medical disability. You may also be protected by state and local laws regarding pregnancy discrimination.

You can't be fired because you're pregnant or may become pregnant.

An employer can't fire, deny a job, or deny a promotion to a woman because of her pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions as long as she can perform the major functions of her job. Note: An employer is not legally required to make it easier for a pregnant woman to do her job.

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You can't be forced to take leave as long as you can do your job.

Pregnant employees cannot be forced to take leave while they are pregnant as long as they can perform their assigned work tasks. If an employee is absent from work due to a pregnancy-related condition and she recovers, the employer can't force her to remain on leave until the baby's birth.

You're entitled to the same benefits received by other employees with medical conditions.

You must be offered the same level of medical benefits, leave, and temporary disability insurance that are provided to employees who have other medical conditions or disabilities.

You can take part of your maternity leave before your baby is born.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you can part of your unpaid maternity leave while still pregnant if you are physically unable to work due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. Your job will be protected for a total of 12 weeks, including time before and after birth.

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Spouses are entitled to insurance coverage for pregnancy-related conditions if your company's health plan includes spousal coverage.

Employers cannot deny coverage for the pregnancy care of a male employee's spouse, provided that spouses of female employees are usually covered by comprehensive health insurance.

You cannot be denied the standard benefits if you are a single mother-to-be.

Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees.

Balancing Work & Pregnancy

Despite its challenges and discomforts, pregnancy isn't a ticket to slack off at work. Here are some tips for handling every situation successfully, from sharing your pregnancy news to prepping for maternity leave.

Share your pregnancy news with your boss first.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Before you say goodbye to work, hammer out the details of your leave.

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.

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