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How to deal with being pregnant at work

Being pregnant at work can be stressful—worries about job security don’t exactly make morning sickness easier to deal with. Here’s what to expect when you’re expecting at work.

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pregnant woman holds belly while holding notebooks

We went to the experts to help the newly expecting navigate common hurdles on the job.

How to tell your boss you’re pregnant
Go in with a plan, says Avra Davidoff, a Calgary psychologist and career counsellor. “That way, it’s not just the employer telling you how it’s all going to happen.” Before your meeting, learn about labour laws and your company’s policies on maternity and parental leave. For instance, the Canada Labour Code says you must inform your employer four weeks before beginning your leave, but some provinces require six weeks. Be sure to tell your boss first, before the work rumour mill kicks in, as this builds trust, says Kathleen Johnston, a career coach in Edmonton. “It’s something you should do to show respect.”

If you feel your pregnancy will affect the way you do your job, discuss your concerns with your manager. Some women are afraid to do so, says Johnston, but they need to push past the worry. Do you need special accommodations during your pregnancy? Do you want to take the full year of leave? Speak up.

If your employer isn’t supportive, know your rights. The Canadian Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on pregnancy. You can’t be fired, treated differently or harassed because you are pregnant. Each province and territory also has its own human rights laws. If you do feel you’re being treated unfairly, and the matter can’t be solved internally, your province or territory’s human rights commission or tribunal can help.

Managing physical changes
Carli Lopez, a retail manager in Wainwright, Alta., felt flattened by morning sickness and fatigue during the first four months of her first pregnancy. Her job involved being on her feet, so she negotiated a flexible start time with her boss until she was feeling better. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option. If you’re struggling with nausea, Calgary midwife Gisela Becker says fresh air and making time for small, frequent snacks that include protein can help. Having an empty stomach makes nausea worse.

As your belly grows, discomfort you feel after long periods of sitting or standing may be the next challenge. Becker recommends checking for correct alignment when seated at a desk. (Your feet should be flat on the floor, the backrest support your lower back, and any screen should be at, or just slightly below, eye level.) Switching to a more comfortable chair or using an exercise ball might help, Becker says. Breaks are also important.

If you must stand at work, remember to drink enough water and take breaks when you can. Sit to do tasks you’d usually perform standing, such as counting cash. Talk to your healthcare provider and boss immediately if your job includes tasks or situations that could harm you or your baby. These include being exposed to X-rays or hazardous chemicals, doing heavy lifting or being in a job in which pregnancy could make you a target—a prison guard or police officer, for example.

By law, your employer must provide reasonable accommodation while you’re pregnant. This may mean time for extra bathroom, snack or drink breaks, or flexible work hours if you’re experiencing morning sickness. Employers must also give you time off for doctor’s appointments.

Mat leave and beyond
Davidoff recommends thinking about your leave and your return-to-work plan in advance. Be clear on how much communication you’d like while you’re away. You may want to know about internal job postings or major changes in the company.

Finding an informal mentor at work can also be helpful, says Davidoff. “For my first maternity leave, I knew a person who had gone through a maternity leave a year before. Connecting with her really helped me navigate the experience.”

Finally, be flexible, she says. “Your ideas about maternity leave and your career can be very different from the beginning of the pregnancy to when you come back.”

A version of this article appeared in our January 2017 issue with the headline “Pregnant at work,” p. 48.

Read more:
What to do if you’re fired on maternity leave
5 ways to cope with morning sickness
Pregnancy brain: It’s not all in your head