Pregnant at work? You're not alone! Pregnant women work all the time. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, working while pregnant is generally considered safe — even for some of those in high-risk occupations or with medically complicated pregnancies, thanks to workplace accommodations that allow for continued employment. In fact, the most recent data suggests that 56 percent of pregnant women work full time throughout their pregnancies — and many women do so up until just before they're due.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on pregnancy in any aspect of employment — hiring, firing, laying off, paying, promoting, etc. Pregnant women are perfectly capable professionals, despite the discrimination that still tend to face in the workplace.
While you're generally safe and totally able to work while pregnant, it's also no secret that balancing your body's changes and work isn't so simple all the time. If you're pregnant and still working, you'll probably find value in Fairygodboss' pregnancy week by week breakdown, which can help you navigate the changes that are happening to you, physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can also read on for more on how to be a pregnant pro at work.
Being Pregnant at Work Like a Pro
Women are already too often expected to be super-humans in the workplace, often facing the mother-manager syndrome as they're constantly expected to do their jobs and then some. So throwing pregnancy into the mix can make things even more difficult for women at work. But understanding your rights, prioritizing a healthy work-life balance, keeping yourself comfortable, planning ahead, and asking for/accepting help when necessary can all help you be a total champion during this time.
1. Know Your Rights
First things first, understand your rights. You are entitled to work, and you're entitled to work in a safe, comfortable, and fair environment. If that's ever not the case for you, knowing your legal rights can help you navigate situations with the law on your side.
Again, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is in place for a reason. Your employer is not legally allowed to fire you, lay you off, pay you any less, pass you up for a promotion, or hold back and benefits on the basis of your pregnancy. In the same vein, you can't be hired, promoted, paid more, etc. on the basis of your pregnancy. Rather, you're to be treated equally to all other employees in the company with respect to the law.
"Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth," according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if it does so for other temporarily disabled employees."
On top of that, if you experience any impairments resulting from your pregnancy (think: gestational diabetes or preeclampsia), these may be considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If so, your employer may be required, by law, to provide you with reasonable accommodation, such as modifications that enable you to do your job or leave to allow you time off.
You should also know that harassment of a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth is unlawful. Harassment is considered, well, harassment in the illegal sense if is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment for you, or if it results in an adverse employment decision (like you get fired or demoted).
As a pregnant employee, you may have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. The FMLA also comes into play when it comes to negotiating your maternity leave and ensuring that your job will still be there for you when you do return to work after your leave. As a new parent (this also applies to you if you are a foster or adoptive parent), you may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave that may be used to care for your new child. To be eligible, you'll have had to have worked for your employer for 12 months prior to taking your leave, and your employer must have at least 50 employees. It's up to your employer whether or not your leave will be paid.
2. Prioritize Work-Life Balance From the Start
Work-life balance is key. A growing body of research suggests that, without it, both employees and their employers suffer. The science is simple. When we work too much, it impairs our sleep, leads to crippling stress (which takes a toll on our health), and can negatively affect how we communicate and collaborate. While most people want a better work-life balance, Americans work 47 hours a week on average, which is one of the highest numbers in the world.
When you're pregnant, work-life balance becomes that much more important. You and your baby both need you to be healthy with as little stress as possible to ensure as smooth a pregnancy as possible. After all, research shows that stress can take a toll on your baby's health, too. During pregnancy, stress can actually increase your chances of having a premature baby (a baby that is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a low-birthweight baby (a baby that weighs less than five pounds, eight ounces).
So set the precedent early on. Prioritize a work-life balance from the start of your pregnancy — or, ideally, from the start of your career! This way, you, your boss, and your team all get accustomed to your work schedule and learn your boundaries. The sooner this happens, the less burden you have to bear.
One surefire way to establish a healthy work-life balance is by sharing your pregnancy news (when it's appropriate and you feel ready!) with your boss first. Your boss may be able to better accommodate you, and they'll ideally be more understanding of everything from coming in late due to morning sickness and all those bathroom breaks you might start taking.
Once your boss knows, you can go ahead and relay the information to your team, as well. Your team is just that: a team. They're there to support you. You never know who might have been in your shoes before who may be willing to step up to lend a hand if and when you need it during this time.
3. Find Ways to Stay Comfortable
While it may not always feel so easy, do your best to stay comfortable during your pregnancy. Here are a few ways that you can do just that...
- Take breaks and rest whenever you need to.
- Make sure that you're getting enough sleep during the workweek.
- Take time for you while you're not working so that, when you are working, you can be as present as possible.
- Don't overdo it. In other words: Don't bite off more than you can chew right now.
- Prioritize your health over your work.
- Wear comfortable clothes that allow you mobility.
- Keep your body moving and your blood flowing. Get up and walk around every so often.
- Reduce your stress by practicing various relaxation techniques, from breathing exercises to meditations.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Drink a lot of water and get your electrolytes.
- Eat all of your meals (no skipping!), and stock up on snacks to try to curb morning sickness.
- Accept help if you need it or when it's offered.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice from other pregnant women or mothers in your work network.
- Keep your office at a comfortable temperature if you have control over the settings.
- Request any workplace modification that you may need.
- Request leave if you need it.
4. Plan Your Maternity Leave in Advance
Always plan your maternity leave in advance so you can negotiate time and pay — and so that you can enter your leave stress-free, knowing that you have carefully delegated everything and your job is under control while you're away.
We've said this before, and we'll say it again: There are two main reasons that you'll want to create a maternity leave plan:
- You need to give yourself clarity about your deadlines, what you'll need to hand over to your coverage.
- You need to give your boss and colleagues that same information.
It may be wise to break your plan up into three sections:
- During Leave
If you do this, you can more clearly outline what you're expecting of yourself and others prior to your departure, while you're away, and upon your return. This will make the transitions out and back in as seamless as possible for all parties involved. For your convenience, we've created this office maternity leave checklist you can reference while making your plan, so you make sure that you hit every point. There are 40 steps to it so, if you follow this checklist, you'll certainly cover all of your bases!
Again, under the FMLA, all new parents, including foster and adoptive parents, may be eligible for 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave to care for a new child if they've worked for their employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave. According to U.S. Department of Labor, FMLA also applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and all companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every single year for any of the following reasons:
- For the birth and care of a newborn child
- For placement with a child via adoption or foster care
- To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
- To take medical leave due to a serious health condition
Under FMLA, you're also guaranteed that this leave is job-protected. In other words: Your job must still be there when you get back. So, while planning your maternity leave may feel overwhelming, you may at least find solace in knowing that you may be entitled to it and, if you are, you're also entitled to your job upon your return.
5. Ask for Advice
Don't hesitate to ask others for advice. We know, asking for help can be difficult at times, but the chances are that you probably have a ton of burning questions that, frankly, would probably be best answered by other women who've been pregnant in the workplace before you. Here are some of the common questions pregnant women at work have, that you may be curious to ask, as well...
- Can I work throughout my whole entire pregnancy?
- How do I tell my boss that I'm pregnant?
- How do I tell my team that I'm pregnant?
- How can I best manage my morning sickness while at work?
- Where can I shop for professional pregnancy clothes?
- How can I stay comfortable while at work?
- What happens if I can't work due to a pregnancy complication?
- What do I do if my boss or team is not accommodating/supportive of my pregnancy while at work?
- Will work stress affect my pregnancy?
- How should I handle/report workplace discrimination against me while pregnant?
Know that the Fairygodboss community is always available to support you! FGBers ask questions all the time, and others in the community weigh in with their own wise words of advice and shared experiences so you can know that you're not alone — because you're most certainly not. And you don't have to navigate your pregnancy while at work alone, either. Together, we'll get you through the next nine months (or however much longer you have until your due date!).
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.