Congratulations! You’re pregnant. Maybe it was long planned or maybe it happened sooner than you expected. Either way, now that you have a baby on board, you are officially on the road to motherhood. But that’s not all. Since you also work, you will soon have full-fledged working mom status.
Fortunately, being pregnant at work is a great primer for working motherhood. As you advance through the various stages of pregnancy, you’ll find yourself becoming more prepared for your life as a mom.
I still vividly remember my first pregnancy. Wanting to start our family early in our careers, I was barely six months into life as an associate attorney when I became pregnant with our son.
I had a rough first trimester, which meant that as I learned how to conduct depositions and co-chair trials, I was also staving off horrible nausea and trying not to puke on my shoes (sometimes I succeeded).
I worked right up until the day my water broke, unexpectedly, a few weeks before my due date. From beginning to end, I learned some helpful tricks for navigating pregnancy at work. It also helped that my firm focused on fighting pregnancy discrimination—I had an ally every step of the way.
Today we share some of these helpful tips with you.
Nausea. Vomiting. Exhaustion. Food aversions. Mood swings. Headaches. The first trimester is known for many things, and, with the exception of the tiny baby that grows from the size of a poppy seed to the size of plum, none of them are good. The first trimester is a wondrous time for fetal development but a very challenging time for women’s health.
What you need most during this time at work is support and understanding. Deciding when to tell your employer you are pregnant is a personal decision. Personally, I disclosed my first pregnancy very early—at around six weeks. I didn't even tell my family until the second trimester, but I felt my employer—who I saw everyday—had to know sooner.
I chose to do so at that time for two reasons:
1) I had a very understanding, supportive employer whom I trusted with the news, and
2) I had terrible nausea and vomiting. I needed help with court appearances. I wanted the office to understand why I wasn’t coming in early or staying late for appointments. Beyond that, the sickness was overwhelming and keeping it a secret only made me feel worse.
So, I chose to tell my boss and ask for certain reasonable accommodations. For me, that meant working from home more frequently as needed, obtaining coverage for court appearances when I felt particularly awful, lying down (yes on the floor with a pillow and blanket in my office) during moments I thought I’d die of exhaustion, and not handling any additional work outside of my caseload (meaning I didn’t handle any potential new client consultations).
If you find yourself struggling to stay afloat during the first trimester, consider asking your employer for a reasonable accommodation. The UC Hastings Center for WorkLife Law provides a helpful list of workplace accommodation ideas along with guidance for your doctor if you need a note for your employer.
During my second pregnancy, which turned out to be a twin pregnancy, I experienced even more severe hyperemesis during my first trimester—so much so that I couldn’t even get out of bed some days. At that time, I already worked exclusively from home, but, had I not, I would have either requested the remote work location or a temporary leave of absence since my condition was so severe.
Workplace Essentials and To-Dos for the First Trimester
Not everyone has such a trying first trimester though. You may be able to get by without feeling compelled to share your news. Still, here’s a list of essentials you may want to keep in your office or work area during your first trimester:
- Snacks to stave off nausea—crackers, chips, ginger chews, sour candy, lemonade—whatever helps you (if anything),
- A place to store your nausea medication (if applicable) and prenatal vitamins,
- A pillow and blanket (don’t laugh! I know many a pregnant woman who has needed a lunchtime nap during the first trimester),
- Your doctor’s phone number,
- A place to periodically sit if you do not already have one,
- A wastebasket, and
- Bloat-hiding clothing (if you don’t plan on sharing your news quite yet).
You should also brush up on your employer’s parental leave policies and your workplace pregnancy rights. If at any point in your pregnancy you believe your employer is treating you disparately on the basis of your pregnancy, contact an attorney, the EEOC, or your state’s civil rights commission.
If you haven't already, you should also formulate a plan for how you will handle your doctor’s appointments as it will be important to begin receiving adequate prenatal care while also balancing your workload.
Welcome to the second trimester, the magical unicorn of trimesters. During the second trimester, most women say goodbye to morning sickness and say hello to much more energy. You will likely also start showing. You’ll be “big” enough that people won’t mistake your beloved baby for a burrito but still limber enough to tie your shoes.
With my twin pregnancy, I never experienced that much coveted second-trimester energy burst (multiples pregnancies are rough), but I know it’s real because I had it with my first pregnancy. With my first, I can still remember being in spin class around 25 weeks pregnant, feeling strong, and thinking that I wouldn’t mind being this pregnant forever. I also sailed through work during the second trimester, and there is a good chance you will too.
Second trimester is a great time to continue taking on new projects. In most cases, you are still medically able to travel, so conferences, out-of-town assignments, and even vacations (babymoon, anyone?) are all fair game.
If your second trimester is not the stuff of dreams, know that you are not alone and that you can still request a reasonable accommodation if you need one—that right never goes away during your pregnancy.
Regardless of whether you feel amazing or awful, now might be a good time to share your pregnancy news with your employer if you haven’t yet. Discuss how much leave you plan to take and when you plan to start. Ensure you are both on the same page regarding who will be handling your work while you are out and what your role will be in preparing them for your absence.
Being in your third trimester is a little like being a senior in college. You’ve struggled and put in the work, and now you are so done. Beyond done. Only now, instead of getting ready to throw on some heels and walk across a stage, you’re preparing to go birth a baby somewhere.
You’re big and exhausted, but there’s an undeniable electric energy coursing through you as you await what’s ahead. You are also so busy during the third trimester. Doctor’s appointments become more frequent. You may be finishing up a nursery or doing other home renovations. There are parties, baby showers, photo shoots, and the weird nesting instinct that has you up at 3 AM reorganizing soup cans in your kitchen.
Working During the Third Trimester
Somewhere in the midst of all that, you’ll wrap up work projects, prepare your replacement, write your transition memo, and still find time to finalize a merger like a rockstar.
Keep detailed notes of projects and communications throughout your third tri since you never know how soon your baby may decide to arrive. With my first, I was in the midst of a multi-week administrative hearing, finalizing a huge summary judgment motion, and handling several depositions in a federal case when my water broke 17 days before my due date.
Though I hadn’t planned on starting my leave for another week or so, I had documented and discussed my work enough that my colleagues were able to pick up where I left off without too much drama.
In addition to finalizing those last-minute details, be sure you’ve talked to your employer about your need for a private lactation space upon your return to work if you plan to breastfeed. Even if you discover your plans don’t pan out after your baby is born, you will still want to have a plan in place for that first day back.
In any event, congratulations! You’ve made it. You’ve successfully navigated a workplace pregnancy and now you’re on to the tackle the greatest challenge of all: motherhood.