Some women are magical unicorns who breeze through pregnancy with endless energy and “that glow”. Then there are others. Others who sense a whiff of coffee or cheese and who run for the bathroom, who struggle to stay awake past 2:30PM and who wonder how on earth their body could be growing a small human when they feel this bad.
Whether you’re a lover or a hater, there is no escaping that pregnancy can be a tough gig and one of the hardest parts is that you have to carry on with normal life at the same time. One of the most difficult parts of managing pregnancy is often coping with pregnancy at work. Although the house can be left to fall apart for a little while, you can’t quite say the same for your paid employment!
Here are some tried and tested tips for coping with pregnancy at work, shared lovingly from a woman who knows how tough pregnancy can be (and checked over by Jo Alilovic, my co-host on The Juggle podcast and pregnancy-lover, just so we remain fair and unbiased!).
Coping with morning sickness
If you have had a pregnancy without morning (or all-day) sickness then count your lucky stars! Sickness can be one of the most debilitating parts of pregnancy. Often you never know when it will strike and it can come over you in a matter of minutes.
Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for morning sickness, although many women have found little things to take the edge off, including:
- Eat little and often. Having an empty stomach can make your nausea worse.
- Eat breakfast or a little snack before you get out of bed. On the other hand, some women find it better to wait for the nausea to pass before eating (i.e. throw up on an empty stomach).
- Sip on water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Some women swear by warm water, others prefer ice cold.
- Lemons! They’re said to help, although I don’t quite know how.
- Ginger tablets in huge quantities were the number one piece of advice recommended to us by fertility expert Gabriela Rosa
- Suck on hard boiled sweets.
- Get plenty of rest. Don’t roll your eyes at me, this is the only one that has worked for me. If I haven’t had much sleep, my nausea is ten times worse than after a good night of rest.
More practical advice for the workplace includes:
- Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in your desk drawer. Brushing your teeth may be enough to make the nausea pass, or if not, it will at least make you feel a little fresher.
- Keep plenty of snacks handy – savoury crackers, bread in the freezer for toast, fresh fruit – whatever your body is craving.
- Tell your colleagues about your pregnancy. You will feel much less troubled when you quickly (and often!) dash out of meetings, arrive late or always have snacks to hand.
Dealing with fatigue and exhaustion
I remember feeling surprised at just how tired I got during the first trimester of my first pregnancy. I’m barely even pregnant yet, how can I be so tired! The good news is that most women find that their energy returns at about 14 weeks or so, so hang in there.
The only way to make your life easier is to get more rest. From a work perspective, that may include cutting your hours, even just temporarily. If that isn’t practical, consider some of these alternatives:
- Can you work from home a few days a week? Even one day per week will make a difference if it cuts your commute time.
- Consider starting later, after your morning sickness has passed, or simply to allow yourself a bit of extra sleep in the mornings. If you find yourself getting tired and unable to stay back to make up the hours, can you keep a record and make the time up later when you feel better, perhaps during the second trimester.
- Arrange back-ups for work that you simply can’t do. Being prepared and able to suggest alternatives makes life easier for everyone and shows your employer that you are committed, even if your health is not 100% right now.
- Agree on goals with your boss that you must achieve before you go on maternity leave. Or even set weekly, monthly or quarterly goals. Your most productive hours may not be 9-5 right now, but if you can demonstrate that you can complete your work and meet your goals by working during the times that suit you, everyone wins.
- Reduce other commitments. Perhaps you need to take a break from your volunteer committee role or let someone else take charge of organising the office lunch.
- Delegate and outsource wherever possible.
Don’t be afraid to take sick leave
During my first pregnancy, I was adamant that I was “pregnant, not ill” and despite being very unwell for the majority of the pregnancy, I rarely took any sick leave. Second time around, I am doing my best to keep everything afloat, but I am not being a martyr about it. The fact is, I am pregnant and while that isn’t an illness, it still significantly affects my ability to do all the things I need or want to do. As much as my career is important to me, growing my tiny human is more important and if that means taking a sick day from time to time then I will.
If you can’t shake the feeling that I had first time around, consider booking yourself some annual leave. A few days here and there to take as rest days will come in very handy along the way and you won’t feel so bad about taking planned leave.
Telling your boss you are pregnant
This is a hard one because as much as I wish it wasn’t the case, the fact is that many women are still discriminated against because of pregnancy. Whether that means they are given the work that no one else wants to do, given added pressure or looked over for promotions. One woman told me that her boss simply ignored her for the entire duration of her pregnancy, not speaking a single word to her until she returned from leave!
Fortunately, I have a supportive workplace and I told my boss of both my pregnancies when I was about 5 weeks. Even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to hide it for long given how sick I was. Even when my colleagues didn’t know about my pregnancy, I felt a sense of ease knowing that one or two people in the office knew what was going on when I was showing up late or acting strange. So, if it feels too early to tell your boss, you may find comfort in telling a trusted colleague.
The Fair Work Act requires that you give your employer 10 weeks’ notice before you want to take parental leave, so keep this in mind when considering when to share your news. Other things to consider include whether any changes need to be made to your work duties or work environment to make it safe for your pregnancy, whether you want to request any changes to your working hours, role or duties as a result of pregnancy related illness and whether you need to take time off for medical appointments. All are important reasons for spreading the good news sooner rather than later.