Pregnancy: Work, baby, work

It's possible to enjoy both your work and your pregnancy. Here's how...

pregnant woman working on a computerEvery pregnant woman is working, either at home or in a workplace. If the pregnancy is low-risk and uncomplicated, most women can continue to work, but it is equally important to know when not to work.

Although pregnancy is a natural process and not a disease, a pregnant lady has to adjust to many common discomforts. The ability to cope with the challenges posed by pregnancy is determined by the physical condition, physiology of the pregnancy and the psychological state of the pregnant woman.

Some working women enjoy their work so much that they cannot think of staying away from work. Some may want to stop, but financial pressures and career prospects may force them to continue.

It is thus important to understand that work can affect pregnancy and pregnancy can affect work.

Before pregnancy

Timing matters

It is important that the pregnancy is planned properly. Crucial responsibilities that may depend upon your presence may have to be fulfilled. Imminent assessments that may lead to career progression, promotion, pay improvement and eligibility for leave should be considered, if possible.

If you are a professional with special skills, you may feel the responsibility towards your employer. You might want to find a right replacement to train somebody before becoming pregnant. It will increase your respect at work and will reduce the stress and guilt that you may feel during your absence from work.

Telling others

When the pregnancy is confirmed, when to inform the employer is often the big question.

It is advisable to wait till the first ultrasound scan [generally done at seven weeks gestation] after you miss your period and your pregnancy test comes positive. The scan confirms the location and viability of the pregnancy. This is your first opportunity to share the special news with your family, friends and colleagues.

Miscarriages [loss of pregnancy] generally happen during the first three months of pregnancy. During this time, the pregnancy is not visible and you may not want to tell anyone.

Unfortunately, morning sickness and fatigue make your pregnancy obvious to those around you. But if you can manage to hide these, then completion of 13 weeks can be your next best chance to declare your pregnancy. If you still want to keep it secret, consider sharing the news at 20 weeks [after the detailed anomaly ultrasound scan has been done]. After this time, people around you can see it anyway.

During pregnancy

Morning sickness

  • Avoid triggers. Stay clear of items that trigger nausea such as certain foods or coffee.
  • Consume plenty of liquids. This helps decrease your nausea and keeps you rehydrated.  Keep a bottle of water at hand at all times.
  • Have frequent snacks. Stack your workplace with crackers and bland foods. It's best to have frequent small meals that are easily digestible. Avoid eating heavy meals.
  • Follow regular dinner timings. Take dinner at least two hours before going to bed. Give extra time to get out of bed in the morning, as rushing will make you physically and mentally tired and worsen your nausea.

Fatigue

  • Iron deficiency anaemia is common during pregnancy and can lead to exhaustion. Eat foods rich in iron and protein such as green leafy vegetables, cereals, apricots, red meat, chicken and fish.
  • Take short and frequent breaks. Take your mind off what you are doing every once in a while. Close your eyes and stretch yourself to relax your mind and body. This can be refreshing even if done for a few minutes.
  • Reduce other activities. When away from work, avoid other social activities, unnecessary travelling and exertion. Make a special effort to keep weekends free for yourself.
  • Take adequate physical rest. Sleep well in time at night. In later stages of pregnancy, a couple of hours rest in the afternoon is hugely beneficial.

Comfort

  • The clothes you wear: This is especially important during the later stages of pregnancy.  Comfortable loose clothing [maternity clothes] makes a huge difference to your working ability.
  • The commute to work: You may not be fortunate to stay close to your workplace. In that case, the travel to work will use up your energy reserves and expose you to additional physical and mental stresses. If any risk factors arise in pregnancy, your ability to continue work may be reduced. So, do all you can to keep the commute comfortable and stress-free. Listening to music while travelling helps divert your mind from the stresses of the commute. You may even want to explore the possibility of working from home.

Posture

Maintaining a proper posture is vital in making you comfortable.

  • Sitting: It is essential to sit straight with proper back support. The chair you sit on should be adjustable and have a firm seat, cushions and armrests.
  • Standing: Avoid standing for long hours. This can pool the blood in your legs and lead to discomfort. It is common for your feet to swell when you are pregnant, but standing can make it worse. If your job requires you to stand, wear good shoes with arch supports and small heels. You can even consider getting a footrest or a low stool to rest legs one at a time. Wearing support tights can make you comfortable.
  • Lifting and bending: The changes in pregnancy lead to laxity of ligaments and joints. This increases the chances of an injury while lifting weights and bending. Look for help if you need to lift heavy objects. If you do it yourself, stand with feet shoulder width apart, bend at the knees and lift your arms and legs and not with the back.

Stress

If you're at work, stress is inevitable. At least take care that it does not drain you of the energy that you need to look after yourself and the baby. Here are some ways to minimise stress:

  • Prioritise your work. Evaluate the help available to you and delegate work.
  • Share your frustration with those who care for you. Never bottle up your emotions.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as good breathing exercises, meditation and yoga [performed under direct supervision] to relax the mind.

Caution at work

  • Exposure to metals such as mercury and lead are known to cause birth defects and miscarriage.
  • Exposure to household cleaning agents and pesticides can lead to foetal deformity.
  • Exposure to pharmaceutical agents such as chemotherapy drugs may increase the chances of miscarriage, low birth weight, and malformations.
  • Exposure to infections on the job, such as hepatitis, rubella, HIV and other communicable diseases can lead to complications during pregnancy.
  • Exposure to physical agents such as radiation and radioactive waste can lead to abnormal foetal development and miscarriage.
  • Exposure to computer screens does not affect your pregnancy. There is enough evidence to suggest that computer screens do not emit radiation that can harm the foetus. They can cause other effects such as pain in neck, wrist, shoulder and back, though.

As the pregnancy advances, women start to wonder about when to stop working. Make this decision only as per your doctor's advice. Also, if any risks arise during the pregnancy, you may have to stop working immediately.

If all is well, you may find it good to stop work about two weeks before your due date, as the mental and physical relaxation will prepare you better for the labour and enable a normal delivery.

Did you know?

Recent research published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology confirms that stress and anxiety resulting from long working hours, jobs with high physical demands, temporary contracts and shift duties are associated with increased incidence of low birth weight babies [under 2,500g] and pre-term births.

Working checklist

  • Talk to your doctor before making any decisions during this time.
  • Keep your hospital bag ready as you may have to go earlier.
  • Keep your pregnancy records with you at all times.
  • Do not let your work affect your antenatal checkups and tests.
  • If it's your second pregnancy, arrange for a good carer to take care of your first child at home so that your mind is at rest. The carer can be a close relative, friend or hired help.

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Sandeep Mane
Sandeep Mane, MRCOG[UK], MD, FCPS, DGO, DICOG, is a certified Laparoscopic and Hysteroscopic surgeon from UK. He is surgical skills training in-Charge at surgeon’s college in London, UK and is the consultant gynaecological endoscopic surgeon at the Origin International Fertility Centre in Thane, Mumbai. He enjoys teaching and this includes educating general public and training doctors worldwide.

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