Women today are more likely to work outside the home than ever before. And unlike previous generations, the majority of 21st century households see two incomes as a necessity rather than a luxury. It’s understandable that today’s pregnant workers strive to keep earning a paycheck for as long as feasible while awaiting their happy arrival. For some women, that can mean up until the moment they go into labor. For others it may be necessary to take time off in advance of the birth.
Here are seven tips for ensuring a healthy pregnancy while also protecting your career path and your paycheck.
1. Know the law: Understand legal protections for pregnant workers.
Many pregnant women are protected by a range of laws that prohibit discrimination, require reasonable accommodations, and provide leave. Some protections for pregnant workers are established at the federal level. Additional protections are also sometimes set by state and local laws. To understand your rights, check out Pregnant@Work. This site includes state-specific information about legal protections for pregnant workers, including the right to receive adjustments at work that will allow you to do your job while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Illinois law, for example, provides significant protection for both pregnant and lactating employees.
2. Get familiar with your workplace’s pregnancy and maternity leave policies.
Review your company’s written policies about pregnancy and related leave. Understanding company policies will allow you to prepare for your conversation with your supervisor so you know what you’re entitled to from the start.
3. Share the happy news at the right time.
Under federal law, you are only legally required to tell your boss that you are pregnant 30 days prior to the date when you plan to take leave. However, there can be advantages to talking to your boss and co-workers about your pregnancy at least several months before you take leave. Being thoughtful about how and when you share your news with your supervisor and co-workers can go a long way in getting help and support to ensure a healthy and productive pregnancy. For ideas and general suggestions for how to have this conversation, take a look at Pregnant@Work, which lays out the state-by-state guidelines for talking to your boss about your bump, courtesy of A Better Balance and the Center for WorkLife Law.
Try to roll out the news in a way that is most likely to be received positively. Be sensitive to looming deadlines and other priorities your supervisor may be juggling. If at all possible, give your boss a sense of your plans during pregnancy and after the birth of your child so that he or she can start to plan accordingly.
If you are suffering from severe morning sickness or another health condition, you may need to let your boss know what’s going on earlier than you might otherwise. In this situation, remind your boss that pregnancy is a temporary condition and you should be feeling better soon. Even in such circumstances, try to think about what you’d like from your employer when you tell him or her about your pregnancy. Are you hoping for sympathy and understanding? More breaks or excused absences? Some other reasonable accommodation?
As noted on the popular website babycenter.com, being clear about what you want from the conversation in advance will increase the likelihood that you’ll be pleased with outcome.
4. Be proactive: work with your boss to create a work coverage plan.
Telling your boss about your pregnancy as soon as you feel comfortable also allows you to have an open conversation in which you can make it plain that your family depends on your paycheck and that you intend to work as long as possible during the pregnancy and to return to work after the baby is born.
Consider what you contribute to the team and how that fits into the bigger picture of how work is accomplished at your place of work. Then think about how your tasks might be distributed fairly, if feasible, during your maternity leave. Present your plan early and get your co-workers on board so that the whole office is well-prepared once you do step away to care for your newborn.
5. Connect with co-workers.
The way the news of your pregnancy is received will depend on everything from the size of your organization to whether or not others on your team are parents themselves. Glean insights from other working parents — and especially working mothers — at your organization. Gathering information from folks who blazed the trail before you will help you to understand whether your hopes and expectations during and after pregnancy are likely to be met. It will also help you to build a network with other mothers at work that can serve as an invaluable source of support both during pregnancy and after your child is born.
6. Listen to your body.
Pregnancy can be exhausting, particularly during the first and third trimesters. In addition to everything else you do on a daily basis, your body is working full-time to grow a new human being. It’s natural for you to feel fatigued and to need to eat, drink and rest more often than normal, even before you are visibly pregnant. If you are working long hours, and particularly if your job includes physical labor (like standing all day, lifting boxes or driving long distances), carve out opportunities to put your feet up and take a quick break during the day. As suggested by the Mayo Clinic, eating and drinking regularly and taking opportunities to rest will help you to do your best on the job and also support a healthy pregnancy.
7. Advocate for yourself: Ask for accommodations if you need them.
Many pregnant women work all the way through their pregnancies uneventfully. Sometimes short-term changes are required to support a woman’s ability to keep working without endangering her health or the pregnancy. Most of these accommodations are free or low-cost, and by their very nature are temporary.
Taking more frequent snack and/or bathroom breaks, carrying a water bottle on the sales floor and limiting lifting are some common accommodations pregnant workers require to maintain healthy pregnancies. Helping your boss to understand all that you are still able to do, and reminding him or her that you are committed to staying on the job, will put these requests for temporary changes into context.
Unfortunately, many pregnant workers continue to experience discrimination on the job. If you need an accommodation, work with your healthcare provider to help her craft a note for your employer that gets very specific about the kinds of accommodations that would help you to continue working while maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Be aware that poorly-written doctor’s notes can cause trouble for you at work. You can print note-writing guidelines for your healthcare provider, based on the state where you live, from the Pregnant@Work website. These guidelines will help your doctor or midwife to write a note that will maximize the chances that you can continue to work without putting your health, pregnancy or job at undue risk.
Following these steps will maximize the chances that you will be able to continue working while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Pregnant women, new moms, and other caregivers who have questions about their rights at work may contact the Center for WorkLife Law’s free national legal hotline at 415-703-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liz Morris is the deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law and an adjunct law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
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