From the Board Room to the Birthing Centre: Pregnancy Pointers for Women at Work
Discovering that you're expecting a baby should be one of the happiest moments of a woman's life, but for many working women pregnancy at work can be a minefield. Women often worry about how they will be viewed by their employer, as some believe that the role of career woman cannot be combined with the role of mother, but more important than that is your health, and that of your baby. As well as being fully aware of your legal rights as a pregnant employee, you should also make sure that you take every step possible to avoiding jeopardising the health and safety of your unborn child.
What Your Employer Should do to Keep You Safe at Work
Communication with your employer is essential when you're pregnant. Although legally you only need to inform your employer of your pregnancy 15 weeks before the due date (or as soon as possible if you only discover your pregnancy at a later stage), it's usually a good idea to let them know sooner rather than later. Not only does this give both parties the time and opportunity to adjust and make plans for your maternity leave, it also means that your employer can fulfil their legal obligation to remove any recognised risk from your job.
For example, if you work around toxic chemicals, work long hours or are expected to lift and carry heavy objects during your work day, then your employer should take steps to remove the risks to you and your unborn child. This means offering you an alternative role for the duration of your pregnancy if necessary, and if they're unable to do this, then instead you should be suspended on full pay for medical reasons until they're able to accommodate your condition with a more suitable role.
What You Should do to Keep Yourself Safe at Work
Working throughout your pregnancy shouldn't be a problem if you're generally healthy and your work doesn't involve risk, but it's still down to you to ensure that you work at a pace that suits your body and your condition. If you're concerned at all about the health of your baby whilst you're working, speak to your doctor or midwife immediately, and they will be able to advise you what to do for the best. If the information your medical professionals give you is incorrect, then they could be liable for medical negligence
If your job entails long periods of either sitting or standing in one position, make sure that you take regular breaks. At the beginning of your pregnancy you're likely to feel tired a lot of the time, so taking breaks will be essential, and towards the end of your pregnancy you'll probably find it very uncomfortable to be sitting or standing for too long. Taking a break over your lunch hour is also very important for the same reasons, and you shouldn't use the time to run around doing errands. Take a stroll in the fresh air, put your feet up or even make the most of the time to have a nap if you feel you need to. If you're used to killer heels being part of your work wardrobe you should think again, because as your pregnancy progresses your centre of gravity changes, so flatter shoes are safer as well as being more comfortable. In addition to this, your feet and ankles are likely to swell due to the excess fluid caused by pregnancy, so choosing comfy footwear is a must, you'll be grateful for it at the end of a long day!
Morning sickness is an issue for many women when they're pregnant, and despite what the name suggests it doesn't always only affect women in the mornings. As morning sickness can begin as early as nine weeks into the pregnancy, you may start to suffer with it before you've even told colleagues your happy news, so you may want to try to hide the fact you're nauseous until the time comes to tell everyone. Getting regular fresh air, keeping a supply of dry crackers in your desk and drinking ginger tea at work are all good ways to cope with morning sickness during your working day.
The challenges that frequently come with pregnancy can make working a full-time job even more of a challenge, but as long as you take steps to keep yourself happy and healthy you shouldn't face any problems.
Millie Whitehead is an experienced midwife. She enjoys helping everyday women take control of their pregnancies and early days of motherhood.