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Working while pregnant — maternity leave, your health, and your rights

As a pregnant woman, your professional career isn’t your only job right now. You’ve got a developing baby inside of you – and pretty soon, outside! – to take care of. Though working during, and after, your pregnancy isn’t easy, there are some ways to make it easier.

Though you may feel nervous about spreading the good news around the office, don’t worry – you’re protected under the law. Thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, your boss can’t discriminate against you based on your pregnancy, childbirth, or any related conditions. Here are some of the act’s specifications:

  • If you can’t perform your job due to a pregnancy-related medical condition, your boss must treat your case in the same way as all temporarily disabled employees – such as keeping your job open for you just as long as you’re unable to work.
  • Any health insurance plan provided by the employer must treat pregnancy-related conditions the same as any other medical conditions. Employers may not charge a higher deductible for pregnant employees.
  • It’s also illegal for your employer to prevent you from working when you’re capable of doing your job, or prohibit you from returning to work after delivery.
  • If you’re looking for a job, a prospective employer cannot refuse to hire you solely because you’re pregnant.

If you feel like you’re being discriminated against at work, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Breaking the news

It’s a good idea to tell your boss first, before letting information spread around the office. Telling your boss early on in your pregnancy is especially important if you work with potentially harmful chemicals. Make sure to let your boss know when you’re going to take leave and when you plan on returning once you’ve made a decision – the earlier, the better.

A new work wardrobe

You may be able to wear some of your old work clothes well into your pregnancy, such as open cardigan sweaters, jackets or billowy dresses that show off your bump. But you will need to add maternity items to the mix. Treat yourself to clothing with enough room and stretch for your growing belly. It’s also a smart idea to swap out those stilettos for supportive flats with a slight heel – these will help your swollen feet and aching back. For inspiration on cute, comfortable clothes that work in the workplace, just do a quick search on Babble’s Family Style blog for the latest looks.

Taking care of yourself

With the occasional aches and pains of pregnancy, you may find focusing on work somewhat more difficult. It’s important to take care of yourself during this time. Here’s what can help:

  • Adjusting your workspace. You may find that typing all day causes more strain than before. Pregnant women are usually more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition in which the fingers and wrists ache or become numb. Ensure that your desk and chair are at the proper height.
  • A tall drink of water. Keeping hydrated helps flush waste products from the body and aids in digestion. It’s also good for liver and kidney function in both mom and baby. Aim for 8 – 12 eight-ounce glasses of water or your favorite low-sugar drink each day, drinking even more when it’s warm or you’re exercising.
  • Avoiding those enormous, sugar- and caffeine-loaded coffee drinks throughout the day. If you can’t live without your morning brew, just enjoy it in moderation. Most studies have shown that a daily caffeine intake of about 200mg, or two eight-ounce cups of brewed coffee, is not linked to miscarriage or other complications.
  • Frequent walks and stretching. If you sit for most of the day, stand up at regular intervals and stretch. If your feet have seen a lot of action at work, try to sit with your feet elevated once every hour or two.

Maternity leave

Ask your human resources department about the maternity leave procedure with your company. The US Department of Labor’s Family & Medical Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more workers to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, financial restrictions may cause parents to go back to work earlier than that. Some employers allow new mothers to take a temporary disability leave or use their sick days to receive pay while at home. Ask your partner if his or her employer offers paid or unpaid paternity leave.

Find out if you can work flexible hours or work from home for a period of time. Plan your work schedule so that you can leave for a few weeks without so much as an email – once baby comes, you’ll be adjusting to new sleep schedules and hormone changes that may affect your professional performance.

Returning to work

If your workplace has a company-affiliated daycare, meet with a member of the staff while you’re pregnant. Find out procedures for enrolling your baby if you choose to go back to work right away. You may also opt for a nanny or outside daycare. To hear how others did it, check out these 5 stories from moms who returned to work after their pregnancies. Don’t forget to update your cubicle, too – maybe with a #1 Mom mug or a framed photo of your newborn – to remind yourself who you’re really working for.

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