Your Pregnancy Wellbeing at Work
Managing Work and Pregnancy Successfully
Copyright 2016 Emma Thomson
The right of Emma Thomson to be identified as the Author of the work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior consent of the author, or be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Becoming a parent is one of the most profound experiences we go through in our lives. It is a time of huge change which is difficult to imagine until it takes place. It should be a time of great enjoyment and fulfilment which is more likely to be achieved if we are mentally and physically prepared.
Whether expecting your first or fifth baby, the journey can be filled with uncertainty and worry with so many things to think about and plan. I based this book on my own experience of becoming a mother and balancing work and home life during my pregnancies. I was also lucky to share the stories and experiences of numerous expectant women during this unique transitional stage of life.
Working during your pregnancy adds additional pressures and stresses. The average pregnancy lasts for 40 weeks. Most women aim to finish work and begin maternity leave around 6 weeks before their baby is due (all going well). If holiday’s are included this means that you will be at work for three quarters of your pregnancy. It’s normal to expect the experience of working whilst pregnant to be positive but unfortunately that is not always the case. Knowing what to expect and how to proactively manage your pregnancy in the workplace makes a huge difference to you and to your employer.
The purpose of this book is to offer a better way to navigate these weeks at work from pre pregnancy, through discovery that you are expecting, right up to leaving your workplace for the last time before your baby is born. Through personal experience and listening to many other mums and employers I identify key areas and times when problems can arise and offer guidance on how to manage these effectively. I very much encourage you to take control of your situation and be proactive in all aspects of your pregnancy from looking after your emotional and physical health to communicating effectively with your employer. This book is not intended as a replacement for your company maternity policy which will likely only provide the basic instruction on how your employer wants you to get through your pregnancy. This guide is an additional source of information and learning to ensure you take the best path possible for you, to ensure your pregnancy is a happy time and a great memory to keep.
I felt compelled to write this book to help you make your journey as a working pregnant woman as positive and happy as it should be. I enjoyed my pregnancies but feel I would have enjoyed the experience much more if someone had offered me the guidance provided in this book.
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Chapter 1. Is your workplace ready for your pregnancy?
Is your employer family friendly?
What maternity pay and benefits does your company offer?
How have other expectant women been treated at your work?
Not pregnant yet but thinking about it?
Chapter 2. Finding out you are pregnant and making the announcement
Advantages to announcing your pregnancy early
Chapter 3. Planning for maternity – thinking ahead about money and time off
What is maternity pay?
What is maternity leave?
Shared Parental Leave and Pay
Keeping in touch (KIT) days
Paternity Leave and Pay
Going back to work – or not?
Chapter 4. Communicating effectively
Communicating about coming back to work
Dealing with difficult communication
Dealing with difficult relationships
Chapter 5. Looking after your physical health and how to manage at work
Common ailments and work related solutions
Chapter 6. Staying emotionally healthy during pregnancy
Ideas to improve your mood
Chapter 7. Getting organised to leave
Changing the date you want to leave
Chapter 9. Thinking ahead – maternity leave and beyond
Deciding when and if to return to work
Keeping in touch with your work while you are off
Why keep in touch?
Would a flexible work pattern work for me?
What is flexible working?
Getting the right childcare
Appendix A: Your Maternity Planning Checklist
About the Author
For a healthy woman, pregnancy is a normal physiological event and not an illness. Of course many women require additional support due to pre-existing or pregnancy related conditions. Using a sensible approach means the experience should be straightforward and you can remain active and productive at work. Taking responsibility for yourself and your unborn baby in all aspects and at all times is very important. It may seem obvious but pregnancy and birth is often over medicalised in western countries leading to a mindset where responsibility is handed over to others. This can filter in to the work place with an expectation that your employer is responsible for the pregnancy. Of course your employer does have many responsibilities including ensuring your health and safety at all times. This does not mean that you sit around waiting for this to happen. In a busy workplace, you will have to be proactive to ensure that your needs are met. Your wonderful journey as a parent is just beginning and will have a great level of responsibility now and in the future, so start as you mean to go on!
The other important thing to remember is that you may only have one baby during your life (even if you hope for a large family), and your pregnancy is such an extremely unique and precious time. With the average gestation lasting 40 weeks, and women generally working up until close to their baby’s due date, you are likely to spend a large proportion of your pregnancy at work. For that reason, why not take control and make the experience of working whilst you are pregnant, as positive and happy as possible?
Whether you are planning a pregnancy in the near future or are already pregnant, ask yourself this very important question; Is my workplace ready for my pregnancy?
This may seem a strange question, but it is a fact that when a working woman is planning to have a baby, she should consider whether her workplace can offer what she needs during her pregnancy (and beyond if she intends to return to work after her baby is born). Some women choose to move to a new employer before becoming pregnant in order to get what they need for this next life changing stage of their lives.
“Julie had been working for her employer for 3 years when she and her partner began talking about starting a family. They agreed that in the first instance, Julie would fully investigate her maternity benefits and entitlements so that they could make a plan. Julie read her company handbook and discovered that she would only be entitled to statutory maternity pay with no enhancements. No one else had been pregnant in her office since she started so it was tricky to work out how family friendly her employer was. Through friends, Julie knew of other local businesses that were family friendly and provided more generous maternity benefits. Julie and her partner agreed that it would make more sense for them as a couple (and for their future family) if she moved jobs to get the benefits that she needed.”
Things to consider:
Within the context of work the term ‘family friendly’ generally means that the employer has developed policies, procedures and programmes which support employees to be able to balance the demands of work and family life. Over time, this leads to a culture of family friendliness which becomes the norm for that organisation. Exactly what these policies and procedures offer will vary from company to company and are often driven by the specific needs of the employees in that group. Why do companies bother with this? Evidence suggests that it can result in employees with greater loyalty, enhanced commitment and specifically in relation to expectant mums, a greater incentive to return to work after maternity leave.
Being family friendly means different things to different people and you will need to work out what is important to you. You may already work for a company which has a culture of supporting expectant parents and this can make life a lot easier. You might have work colleagues who have gone through the process before you and have seen what their experience was like. If not, start by reading your company maternity policy. This should be available from your Human Resources or Personnel contact. Alternatively you may wish to use your company intranet or handbook if you wish your enquiry to be confidential. Some women do this before they decide to have a baby so that they have time to change jobs to get better maternity terms and conditions. This may seem extreme but can be a deal breaker for some. Reading the policy will allow you to understand what to expect in terms of pay, benefits and leave arrangements. It might help to speak to colleagues about what family friendly policies they have benefited from as you may not be aware of them all. You may already have a gut feel for the culture within your workplace and it is up to you to decide if this is right for you or not.
This is an obvious consideration which women often look into first. It is very important to understand the financial implications of taking time off your work. Jokes are often made about the cost of raising a child. The reality is that this is a very expensive time in your life and you should embark on the journey with your eyes open. Generally, companies will have a well-documented maternity policy that you will be able to access. You can ask for specific enquiries to be kept confidential. (Full details of your entitlements are covered in chapter 3).
Speaking to women who have travelled the road before you is a very good chance to find out how you will be treated during your pregnancy. Seek out mums who have returned to work within the previous few years and get feedback about their experience. Bear in mind though that your circumstances will be unique to you so try to get a range of opinions.
Most women try for a baby at some point in their lives and go on to achieve a healthy pregnancy. When the time is right for you to start a family of your own, you should aim to review your health, lifestyle and general well-being to get yourself off to a great start. Be open minded and prepared to make changes if necessary.
Most women achieve pregnancy within one year. Only a small number go on to require fertility investigations. If you have been trying for more than one year, book an appointment to see your GP to discuss this. Being as healthy as possible maximises your chances of pregnancy. Regardless of your circumstances the following points will be helpful.
Top tips for achieving a healthy pregnancy:
Things to think about:
Finding out that you are pregnant will undoubtedly be a big moment in your life. Whether the pregnancy was long planned, as a result of IVF or a complete surprise, the news can be a shock and create a range of emotions. Although you may wish to keep the news of the pregnancy to yourself initially, eventually you will need to let others know. Hopefully this will be easy, but depending on your circumstances, this might be a challenging event which requires some thought and planning. Making an announcement on Facebook may be tempting but is often not the best way to ensure the right people know at the right time!
Here are some ideas to help you manage your pregnancy disclosure at work.
Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to early pregnancy disclosure. You are the best judge of what will work for you in your workplace.
There is no legal obligation to tell your employer that you are pregnant although they may work it out eventually! However, if you wish to receive maternity benefits, you must advise your employer at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. This should be before your 25th week of pregnancy. In addition, your employer has a duty of care to ensure that you and your baby are safe within the work environment. They can only do this when they know you are pregnant.
You are the best judge of how to announce your pregnancy but it is a good idea to think through exactly what you are going to say in advance. Since reactions to the news may vary, you need to make sure to get your message over clearly at the beginning of the conversation. Also think about an appropriate location where you will not be interrupted or overheard if you wish to keep the details confidential. Consider booking a meeting with your manager to allow scheduled time for the conversation rather that popping in to their office ‘for a quick word.’ Some women send an email in advance to set the scene saying for example, ‘I have some exciting news’, to help prepare their supervisor in advance. If you are disclosing your pregnancy early, you can ask your employer to keep the details confidential if you wish.
“Jenny waited until her 12 week scan had passed before announcing her pregnancy. She reported to three different managers and planned to speak to them all separately but in succession. The first was not only her boss but also her friend and she was absolutely delighted to hear the news. As it turned out, she had suspected the pregnancy some weeks before but had waited for Jenny to tell her. The second person to tell was the owner of the business and her mentor. Jenny asked for a short meeting, unannounced, and took her mentor off guard. She had prepared a letter and took this with her to the meeting. Her manager saw Jenny with the letter and assumed that she was resigning. After the relief of realising it wasn’t a resignation note, he was very positive and supportive. He took the time to explain how the changes in her circumstances would be supported in the business. He explained that arrangements would be made to sit down closer to the time of her maternity leave to design the scope of her role for her return to the business. This was all very reassuring as Jenny was career focused and concerned as to how maternity leave would impact her role within the business. The final person Jenny had to tell was a new line manager within the business. Again Jenny asked for a quick informal chat in the office. On making her announcement, the manager was polite but brief when he gave his congratulations. He didn’t make much mention of the pregnancy in the office and clearly was a little uncomfortable.”
On reflection, Jenny felt very well supported by her company’s reaction to the news of her pregnancy. In hindsight, however, she felt she got a little lost in her own excitement to share her news. If in this situation again in the future, Jenny would request a more formal meeting time rather than catching managers unaware and consider that their reactions may vary considerably. She would have leaned on her close relationship with her female line manager and confided in her a little earlier. This would have led to more support for the initial appointments, sick days and cover within the office.
Depending on your work culture and relationships, you are likely to have an idea of how the news will go down at work. If you think that the reaction will be negative, keep the announcement short and stick to the facts such as expected due date. It is better to plan a second meeting at a later date to discuss your maternity plans when the announcement will have sunk in.
Nicky knew her supervisor was busy all week with visiting customers. She saw his office door open and took the chance to nip in to let him know about the baby. Nicky blurted out the good news with a big grin on her face. Her boss looked mortified and turned bright red. He began to shuffle papers on his desk and eventually muttered congratulations. Nicky was shocked at his reaction and felt very upset. This was such a huge moment in her life. She expected everyone to be just as excited.
Nicky’s experience is sadly pretty common. You may already be feeling emotional and experiences like this might be upsetting. It may help to send a brief email first to prepare your colleague for the news to encourage positive reactions.
Things to think about:
Pregnancy is a sensible time to review your finances and get them in order before you finish work and your baby arrives. Often people write or review their will at this time and also consider taking out life insurance. If you would like to explore your options, it is a good idea to seek the advice of an independent financial advisor.
If your baby was unplanned or your financial situation is unstable, you may feel quite worried about the implications of giving up work on your income, even for a short period. Working out what you are entitled to now will help reduce your anxiety and help you plan better.
Trying to understand your maternity pay (and benefits and entitlements), can feel overwhelming. Working out all the details can be complicated but your employer should provide full written details of your maternity pay. They will do this once you give them your Mat B1. A Mat B1 is an official maternity certificate which you give to your employer as medical evidence of when your baby is due. Your midwife or GP will give you this from around 21 weeks of pregnancy. Your employer must receive this certificate by the 25th week of your pregnancy for you to receive your maternity pay. Best to do this sooner rather than later so that you have an idea of your maternity income and can start planning effectively.
By being proactive and getting on top of your finances early in your pregnancy (or indeed before you are pregnant) will help you feel in control of your situation, helping to reduce stress. Start with what you do know. Make a list of your total monthly outgoings once your stop work. Write down all the key things to give you an estimate. Remember that some of your costs may reduce when you stop working. For example, you may no longer need to pay for lunches, travel or clothes. This will give you an idea of your weekly and monthly expenditure.
To receive statutory maternity pay (SMP), you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks in to the 15th week before your baby’s due date. You also need to have been earning enough to pay national insurance. Your employer will tell you if you don’t meet the requirements to receive SMP and advise what other options (such as maternity allowance) are available. Maternity Allowance is paid by the Benefits Agency for women who don’t qualify for SMP. They must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before their baby is due.
SMP is paid for 39 weeks and is paid to you by your employer. You get 90% of your average earnings for the first 6 weeks and then a flat rate for the remaining 33 weeks. This flat rate is set by the government and the amount can be found at . Tax and national insurance are deducted as normal.
Some employers provide enhanced maternity pay. This is generallybased on length of service or your position in the company. You will find details in your company maternity policy.
To work out your statutory maternity pay, follow the quick calculation below. (Alternatively, go to to calculate your leave and pay).
As well as maternity pay, you are also entitled to maternity leave. If you have a partner, they will be entitled to paternity leave and paternity pay. In addition, you now have the option of shared parental leave and pay.
If you receive other benefits from your employer, they will advise you how these will be affected by your leave. If for example, your employer makes contributions to a pension scheme on your behalf, they are obligated to continue to make these payments during your maternity leave. You may have other benefits which continue or stop while you are off. You should check what these are.
All employees are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave regardless of their length of service or the number of hours they have worked.
You need to tell your employer when you would like your leave to start and this can be any time from 11 weeks before your baby is due. Your employer may ask for medical evidence of your baby’s expected due date. You can provide your Mat B1 certificate which confirms the date. Your midwife will give you this at your antenatal appointment at around the 21st week of pregnancy and definitely before the 25th week. It’s a good idea to confirm your planned maternity leave date in writing so everyone is clear about when you will be finishing work. You can still change your mind about the date but check your maternity policy for notice requirements.
Shared parental leave allows you to split your leave with your partner after your baby is born. You have to take at least 2 weeks off work but the remaining 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared. This could either be taken at the same time as your partner or taken separately. You can take the time in one block or break the weeks up into a series of shorter blocks, but this needs to be agreed by your employer.
This system may work for you if it makes more financial sense for your partner to be off work while you return. You may earn a higher salary or your partner may receive better shared parental leave pay and benefits than you. If you have other children, you may wish to have time off during school holidays together with the new baby. Consider thatyour partner may want to take more of a role in the care of the baby in the early months.
If you want to take shared parental leave, you should let your employer know in writing as soon as possible. This should be at least 8 weeks before the date you want to start the leave. Ideally, this would be something that you decide whilst you are still working during your pregnancy and it gives you and your employer plenty time to get organised. There are some eligibility requirements and your employer can advise you of these.
During your leave it can be helpful to keep in touch with your employer and workplace, particularly if you intend to return to work at the end of your maternity leave.
Your employer is entitled to make reasonable contact with you during your maternity leave. This might be to update you on any significant changes at your work including any opportunities for promotion or job vacancies.
You can work up to 10 days during your maternity leave without losing your Statutory Maternity Pay or ending your leave. These are called keeping in touch days and can only be worked if both you and your employer agree. You can’t work in the 2 weeks immediately after your baby is born.
(During shared parental leave, you and your partner are able to agree up to 20 shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days. You will be paid for these days)
Although useful for training or team events, KIT (or SPLIT) days can be used for any form of work. They can make it easier for you to return to work after your leave.
You will need to agree with your employer what work is to be done and how much pay you will receive. It’s a good idea to agree how you will keep in touch before your maternity leave starts allowing you to plan your childcare. You can arrange a meeting with your supervisor or HR contact to discuss KIT (or SPLIT) days.
Depending on your job you may wish to:
Agree the dates in advance so that you can plan your childcare and also let relevant people know. Remember you don’t have to work all 10 days or work full days at a time. A half day may be more than enough initially. It may even be possible to work a KIT day from home if your job allows it or use KIT days to trial part time working if that is something you are considering.
Many women find that returning to work is much less daunting if they have attended some keeping in touch days. They also feel more confident and organised when they return. Planning and getting the most from KIT days are discussed in Chapter 8.
Your partner may be entitled to one or two weeks paid paternity leave. In the first instance, they should read their company paternity policy. In general, to be eligible for paternity pay, they need to give their employer at least 15 weeks’ notice before the date your baby is due (qualifying date) and must have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks at this date. They should check with their employer what notification they need to give in order to receive paternity pay and leave. Some companies offer enhanced paternity pay otherwise they will receive the statutory payment. Details of this can be found at . The leave must be taken within 8 weeks of your baby’s birth.
If you intend to return to work, you must let your employer know in writing at least 8 weeks in advance of your return date. Normally you would advise your employer of this date before you go off on maternity leave to allow planning for cover etc. However, you can change the date at any time by giving 8 weeks’ notice. If you take up to 26 weeks maternity leave, you are entitled to return to your previous job. If you take more than 26 weeks maternity leave, you are likely to be able to return to your previous job however if this is not possible, your employer must offer you a suitable job with the same terms and conditions. Check your company policy for confirmation of this.
If you are planning to return to work after a period of Shared Parental Leave, the same rules apply as if you are returning from maternity leave. This means that you are entitled to return to the same job if your combined maternity and Shared Parental Leave total 26 weeks or less.
If you don’t intend to return to work at the end of your maternity leave, you should follow your normal company resignation process.
Things to think about:
Communication is very important in all elements of our lives and communicating effectively throughout pregnancy and when returning to work is no different. Understanding what you actually need to communicate and when is important as there are many deadlines relating to maternity rights and benefits during both the pregnancy and the maternity period. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your employer will remind you every step of the way. It’s up to you to take responsibility for advising the right people at the right time otherwise you could potentially miss out on benefits that you may be entitled to.
You don’t need to be amazing at talking to communicate well. Sometimes it is easier and more appropriate to communicate what you want in writing. In fact, to apply for many maternity benefits, your employer may ask you to put your request in writing. Put together a basic ‘communication plan’ which helps to let everyone know not only key dates and information at the appropriate times but also keeps you on track to ensure deadlines are not missed.
Although you may not feel you need to prepare a communication plan, it will still be helpful to prepare a schedule of key dates to refer to as you progress through your pregnancy. Include all your appointments and who you need to tell with any deadlines. You should aim to include the following:
Once you announce your pregnancy, one of the first questions you will be asked is, ‘when are you going on maternity leave?’ Nowadays, if women are well during their pregnancy, they tend to plan to continue to work up until close to their due date. Of course, your health or circumstances can change as pregnancy advances and some women need to finish working earlier, so some flexibility is required. From a communication perspective, it is important to keep your employer advised of your plans so the necessary arrangements for your replacement (if there is one) and your maternity benefits are organised in plenty time. Use your plan to make a list of everyone that you need to advise. Draft an email or letter which includes your planned leave date and, (if possible or appropriate), your planned return to work dates. If you intend to return to a career job, this will let everyone know that you are serious about coming back.
So many factors will determine whether or not you decide to return to work after your maternity leave and this will be unique to your circumstances. The assumption nowadays is that most women opt to return to work after maternity leave. If you don’t intend to return to work (and depending on the culture of your workplace), you may feel uncomfortable delivering this information during your pregnancy. You may believe that it is better to pretend that you are going to return and continue as though you are, right up until the last minute before you are due to return. Think about this approach carefully. If you genuinely know you don’t want to return to work, it will be much less stressful to let your employer know from the outset. This means that you know exactly what you are doing and can plan accordingly. Equally, it allows your employer to manage your replacement much more easily with proper handovers and a more organised approach. It is also important to remember that you may wish to return to work in the future and may rely on your old employer for a reference. It is therefore better to leave on a positive note rather than be remembered for creating unnecessary chaos.
The dynamic of your place of work and your relationships with your colleagues can have a surprising impact on how enjoyable your experience of pregnancy can be. Those who are lucky enough to work for a family friendly employer who is supportive of their choice to become a parent, will likely find the journey reasonably stress free. Unfortunately, many women work in environments where employers are at best, ambivalent to their pregnancy and at worst, hostile. Often knowledge is power in these circumstances so do your homework and take control of your situation.
Part of communicating effectively is to manage the expectations of those around you. First though, you have to work out what your expectations are of yourself. What kind of working pregnant woman are you going to be? No different to whom you are normally but with a bump? Or do you see the time as an opportunity to kick back and wind down? Ask yourself these questions to work out how you are intending to be. Once you understand this about yourself you should communicate to your colleagues what they should expect from you in the coming months. This will help everyone manage better.
“Lucy worked in a fast paced financial environment. She couldn’t wait to finish work to start to enjoy her pregnancy. The culture of her organisation was to treat pregnant women as though they were not pregnant. Although Lucy was not treated unfairly, she said because her pregnancy was not acknowledged, she could not share and enjoy the experience with her colleagues. This eventually led to feelings of stress and anxiety because she felt she had to constantly ‘keep up’ with her old non pregnant self. “
Because of the work culture, there was an expectation that pregnant women would carry on as normal. This is a perfectly acceptable situation as pregnancy is not an illness and in theory no allowances need to be made as long as entitlements are honoured. But how would you feel if you were Lucy?
Although everyone hopes that each pregnancy will result in a healthy baby, unfortunately this is not always the case. Miscarriage is common and causes varying degrees of distress to women depending on their exact circumstances. If you experience a miscarriage and have not yet told your employer about your pregnancy, you may wish to keep the details private and gain support from your friends and family. Alternatively, depending on the circumstances, you may need to tell your manager or supervisor what has happened in order to ask for time off to recover. If you have already told your employer and your colleagues that you were expecting a baby, giving the news that you have miscarried can be very difficult and upsetting. Equally, you may discover during your pregnancy that your baby has a health concern or perhaps a problem has gone undetected until the birth. Sometimes the outcome can be devastating.
Having to tell your work that you have experienced a miscarriage or your baby has a life threatening condition or worse, has died, is something no one wants to consider. How on earth would you be able to face returning to your work and delivering this news? Sadly, some women have had to go through this exact experience. If you find yourself in such a situation, you will need to advise your work at some point (unless you miscarry and have not announced your pregnancy). There are a number of ways to handle this and you should choose which is most bearable for you.
In the first instance, some women prefer to send an email to their supervisor letting them know what has happened. This can allow the woman to present the facts in the way that they wish without having to deal with either other people’s reactions to the news or any well-meaning but inappropriate questions. Alternatively, some women prefer to meet face to face off site with a trusted colleague. Others need the support of a partner or family member to deliver the news on their behalf.
Depending on the circumstances, you may need to be signed off work for a period of time. It can be helpful to contact your manager or HR representative (or asking a close colleague to do this on your behalf) to find out things such as what time off you can have and if you have access to any other entitlements such as counselling. They may ask you to outline how you would like the news to be delivered to your wider place of work, if at all, and also ask if you wish any contact whilst you are off. Before you return to work it is worth considering how you would like to be treated on your return, even if you are only off for a short period of time. Again, speaking to your manager or a close colleague before you go back can help make this process more bearable. They can also let you know what is happening at work and what support will be available. Your colleagues will be worried about you and unsure what they should say or not say. Letting them know in advance whether you are okay for them to approach you or that you would prefer that it was not mentioned will help everyone support you in the way that suits you best at such a difficult time.
There is generally an expectation that pregnancy is happy event and will bring out the best in everyone, however, this is not always the case. Your colleagues may have their own views, attitudes and personal experiences relating to pregnancy which you are unaware of. This may lead them to react to you in ways which you are not expecting.
“Sue’s boss was in her mid-forties, single and had not been a mother. When Sue confided in her about her pregnancy, her boss was cold and unsupportive. She made it clear that the pregnancy was an inconvenience to the team and that Sue had let her down. The relationship did not improve throughout her pregnancy and Sue eventually started her maternity leave early.”
What can you do in this situation?
Communicating clearly with your workplace during your pregnancy will avoid unnecessary stress and misunderstanding. It is your responsibility to ensure that you provide the correct information at the correct times. Making a plan at the beginning of your pregnancy will help you to know what you need to communicate and when, helping you to feel in control of your situation.
Things to think about:
Some women are lucky enough to not only feel well for the duration of their pregnancy but also work in an environment which is supportive of their needs. Most women, however, experience some challenges relating to coping with working whilst they are pregnant. Pregnancy and parenting can be physically challenging so keeping fit and well is important. There are lots of simple things that you can do to look after your physical health, even if you are squeezing it into your day. Looking after your self is a top priority for you and your baby.
Although the majority of women are well and healthy throughout their pregnancy, it is not uncommon to experience occasional health ‘niggles.’ Whilst is may be easy to manage these at home, it is sometimes inconvenient and distracting to experience these ailments at work. Whatever your level of physical health, there can be days where coping with work, can be a real challenge. Some ailments are also very personal and you may not want your work colleagues to know. Speaking in confidence to someone who has recently been through pregnancy can help but generally most workplaces expect women to manage their pregnancy related ailments themselves or with support from their own healthcare providers.
For that reason, it is useful to understand a little about some of the most common ailments that women experience so that you can be prepared in advance. There are many simple techniques and things you can try to ease your symptoms discretely in the workplace without too much difficulty. Knowing what you can do to help yourself will also reduce stress and worry. Some of the ailments may not seem relevant to you at the moment but you may find, as your pregnancy progresses, circumstances can change. Of course, it always sensible to consult with your health care professional about any condition you are worried about during your pregnancy
These tips will help you to take responsibility for yourself and your baby.
Nausea and vomiting are the most common signs of early pregnancy. Around 85% of women suffer from nausea with around 50% actually vomiting. Apart from making you feel awful, nausea often occurs before you have disclosed your pregnancy to your employer. This can make things stressful and it may be that you need to tell your employer in confidence. If the vomiting is severe, you may need to think about taking a holiday from work to get some rest or see your GP to get signed off work for a while.
What can help?
If all that fails remember in most cases nausea and vomiting stop around the 12th week of pregnancy.
Backache is very common in pregnancy. It is mainly caused by a combination of the hormones which soften the connective tissue in your pelvis and also the increasing weight of your growing bump. From a workplace perspective, if your job involves long periods of sitting at a work station, you can be particularly prone to an achy back.
What can help?
Pregnancy fitness classes can help backache. There are also specialist pregnancy physio classes.
Tiredness is one of the most common complaints that women have in early pregnancy. Remember your body is going through tremendous changes and you need to look after yourself and get plenty rest. Tiredness can make other “niggles” seem worse especially morning sickness, aches and pains.
In general, women feel less tired during the middle of their pregnancy but tiredness can return towards the end. In order to continue to perform well at your work, you should ensure that you do not get too tired.
What can help?
Heartburn is a common complaint of many pregnant women. It is caused by relaxation of the valve at the top of the stomach resulting in a burning sensation from the acidic stomach contents. It’s more common at the later stages of pregnancy, however, it can occur at anytime.
What can help?
Constipation affects many women. Pregnancy hormones can slow down bowel activity in some women and combined with the pressure of your uterus, this can cause constipation. Constipation is when you are unable to pass stools as often as you normally do and can be very uncomfortable. If you are taking iron supplements for anaemia, these can also contribute to the problem. Some women find stress can be a factor too.
What can help?
Hemorrhoids (also called piles) is a condition which affects between half and a third of women during pregnancy or after their baby is born. Hemorrhoids are caused by swollen varicose veins in and around the anus and can cause acute discomfort. This condition can be worse if you have to stand for long periods of time in your job.
What can help?
Symphysis pubis dysfunction or SPD is a condition where women suffer pain in their pelvis during pregnancy. The hormone relaxin (produced during pregnancy) was thought to cause this condition as it softens the ligaments in your pelvis, however, recent research suggests that the problem may be a joint alignment problem. Sometimes SPD is a minor inconvenience but in some women if can be extremely painful resulting in problems with their mobility. It is thought that as many as 1 in 36 women can suffer.
What can help?
Stress and anxiety should be minimised during your pregnancy as too much can create physical symptoms which may affect your baby. A certain amount of stress is inevitable in our day to day lives and you should develop techniques to manage these effectively. This will also stand you in good stead when you have a small baby to care for and may face many stressful moments.
What can I do to help?
Take time to think about what is causing your stress or anxiety. If it is work related you may wish to:
These may also help:
Taking ownership of your health and wellbeing during pregnancy is a top priority. Addressing and managing problems now will make your pregnancy more manageable and ultimately help you to be as fit as possible for the birth of your baby.
Things to think about:
Although not commonly discussed, it is believed that around 10% of women are depressed during their pregnancy. Causes of depression are similar to the causes of depression experienced at other times in our lives and these include; bereavement, relationship or financial worries, isolation, loneliness and a lack of support. Specifically, with respect to pregnancy, additional factors which may lead to depression include health problems with you or your baby, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy or even worry about becoming a parent.
If you are working during your pregnancy, there can be many additional job related factors which could also affect your mood. These factors might have been challenging for you to manage when you were not pregnant. Add to this the mixed emotions of pregnancy and you may find yourself feeling down about your situation.
It is well known that when you are happy, your body produces hormones which cross your placenta and are received by your baby. This means that he or she experiences a happy feeling when you feel good. Conversely, if you are anxious, frightened or stressed, these hormones also cross the placenta. Your baby can experience these emotions too. It is therefore not only in your own best interests but also in your baby’s to recognise these sad or anxious feelings and if possible, take action to manage them.
How we manage our moods varies from person to person. The first step is to have an awareness of the times when we are feeling low. Some common signs of depression in pregnancy include:
It is normal for everyone to feel a little up and down during pregnancy as it is a time of great physical and emotional change. However, if you feel you are experiencing more negative than positive emotions over a period of time such as a few days, you should consider taking action to improve your mood.
Try to work out what the triggers are for your low mood. Tackle the problem if you can. Taking control of your situation can help you to feel better. If it is a work related issue, speak to someone such as your supervisor as soon as possible. Your employer will want you to be safe and well at work and they have a duty to support you. A low mood can lead to reduced performance, poor concentration and you will ultimately not be able to work at your best.
Once your baby arrives you will experience moments of great joy and happiness. It is also completely normal to have periods of feeling low. There is a lot to learn in your new role as a parent and this is often more difficult when you are not getting much sleep. There are lots of other common reasons why you might not feel on top form every day including feeling overwhelmed with your new responsibility or worrying that you are not doing things right.
Understanding your moods and knowing how to manage them during pregnancy will help you cope much better when you have your new baby. Learning how to relax is an invaluable skill that will last you a lifetime and is well worth investing the time to learn now.
If you are worried about your emotional health, it is important to take action as soon as possible. Your midwife or medical practitioner will be trained in this area and they will be able to support you and offer advice.
Why not try these tips today to make you feel good?
Things to think about:
The average pregnancy is about 40 weeks. Most healthy women having their first baby plan to begin their maternity leave around 6 weeks before their baby is due. On average women advise their employer when they are around 12 weeks pregnant. When you do the sums, this leaves 22 working weeks or just under 6 months. This is a relatively short period of time to get organised to leave your job and even less if you begin your leave earlier. No matter how committed you are to your job, you will undoubtedly be distracted by the many practical and emotional aspects of your pregnancy. It is therefore very easy to be complacent about the amount of time that you have to get prepared to leave your work. Many women get caught out and are rushing to finish work at the last minute when they are more likely to be tired and experiencing late pregnancy niggles. It is also important to manage the expectations of your colleagues. You will be amazed at the work that can suddenly appear in the run up to your last day that ‘needs to be finished.’ Start a countdown – “I’ll be leaving in a month, is there anything that you need me to do before then?” This will reduce last minute pressure and allow you to feel in control of your work load. It is important to start getting organised for your leaving date as early as possible.
If someone is going to cover your job while you are away, make sure that you plan plenty time for a handover. If someone has to be recruited, this process should be started as soon as you announce your pregnancy. If your maternity cover is another employee, arrange a meeting with them early on and make a plan together of how the handover will be done. Book time in your calendars and stick to it. Remember your maternity cover will possibly have a job to handover too.
If no one is covering your job during your maternity leave, depending on your particular role, it’s a good idea to get everything in order before you leave. This will make it easier for your colleagues when you are away and for you when you come back to work. Starting early and doing a little every day will mean you will feel organised when you finish.
If you are in a job where you will literally do a normal day’s work and then finish to go on maternity leave with no handover or tidy up required, it can feel a little surreal with no closure. It is not uncommon for women to feel quite adrift when they first begin their leave. They often feel in transition or limbo; not yet a mother but no longer a working women. It can be a good idea to plan a few activities during the first week or two that you are off. Perhaps lunch with a friend, a lovely pregnancy massage, final shopping for the baby? Don’t overdo it though. Tiredness is common at this stage and your baby’s birth is not far away.
Your antenatal appointments may become more frequent towards the end of your pregnancy. You might also have daytime antenatal classes. Take this in to consideration when planning your workload and handover.
There are many reasons why you might want to change the date you want to stop working. Your employer is entitled to notice of any change to this date so give them as much advance warning as possible. Having good open communication will make this easier and allow more flexibility with the exact finish date. Some women opt to take holidays to allow them to finish earlier if necessary.
Health concerns for you or your baby are sometimes a reason that women decide to finish earlier. It is difficult to predict exactly how you are going to feel at the end of your pregnancy when you agree your leave date so it is wise to keep an open mind. It is very easy to put your work first but this is a time to be a little selfish. Your job will survive without you and it is important to be as fit and healthy as possible in preparation for the birth. Finishing early is not weakness but common sense. Better to leave your job when you are performing well and on top of your job rather than crying in to your coffee because you are so exhausted! Sometimes this is called presenteeism. Presenteeism is when you go to work but you are not mentally present due to illness or stress. You are unlikely to perform well and this can affect your workplace just as much, if not more, than actual absence can in terms of your productivity. Sometimes working women find it very difficult to admit that they are tired and need to finish work or reduce their hours. This is a time in your life to give yourself permission to take time to rest if you need to. You will never get this time back so take responsibility for yourself and your baby and prioritise your health and wellbeing.
It may be that you have a medical condition and you are signed off work by your GP. If you are signed off until your planned maternity leave date, your employer can bring this date forward. You cannot receive sick pay and maternity pay at the same time.
Although unlikely, there is a chance that your baby could arrive early. Full term is considered to begin from 37 weeks gestation and many women continue to work past this date. If your baby is born early, your maternity leave will start from the day after the birth.
“Sally was a very committed Lawyer working on a complex case that she was hoping to finish before her maternity leave started. 6 weeks before her baby was due, her waters suddenly broke at home one evening. Sally put a towel on her car seat and quickly drove to the office to sort out her paperwork and complete a report for the case she was handling. Thankfully she managed to do everything and get back home before her contractions started in earnest.”
Although this is a very good after dinner story, it is not to be recommended as the best way to experience early labour. In order to avoid the above scenario, it is much better to start getting organised for your maternity leave as early as possible.
Things to think about:
Although your return to work date may seem like light years away, there are still some decisions to be made surrounding your maternity leave and your return to work arrangements. Once your baby arrives, there will be little time to think about these things so it is a good idea to get everything sorted before you finish.
Firstly, however, if you haven’t already done so, you need to decide whether you intend to return to work after your maternity leave ends and if so, when you will come back.
As previously stated, if you have worked for your employer for at least 6 months, you are entitled to maternity leave of 52 weeks. This comprises of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. When you return to work, you are entitled to return to your same job unless this is not reasonably practicable for your employer. In such a situation, your employer should offer you a similar role (with the same terms and conditions) as your original job.
It may be that you have not yet decided if you want to return to work once your baby is born or perhaps you are having second thoughts about your decision. Be reassured that this is perfectly normal, particularly if it is your first baby. You may never have gone through this experience before and it is impossible to know exactly how you will feel. As your bump grows and you begin to feel your baby move and develop inside you, it is natural that you will question yourself over and over trying to make the best decisions for your new family’s future. There are many influences on this decision making process such as:
Some women are clear about what they want from the moment they are pregnant and are able to make a decision accordingly. Others prefer to wait until their baby arrives before deciding what they want to do. (Of course, you can still change your mind about your return date with the required notice.) Additional factors may come in to play once your baby is born including changes to your own health or unexpected health issues with your baby. As your maternity leave progresses, you may love being at home enjoying a caring role or you may yearn to be back at work. Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to predict, however, the important thing is to give yourself time and space to work out what is right for you. Nothing is insurmountable. If you really want to stay at home and look after your baby instead of returning to work but are worried you can’t afford to, take your time to look at your finances carefully before you dismiss this option. Can you cut costs anywhere? Could you look for a part time job as an alternative or take a career break? It’s best to thoroughly explore your options now rather than returning to work unhappy and possibly having regret about your decision in the future.
If it is your intention to return to your job at the end of your leave, you need to decide whether and how much you want to keep in contact with your workplace. This is a personal choice and will depend on the type of job that you do. Some women can’t wait to walk out the door and hope to put their work out of their minds for the next 12 months. However, there are advantages to keeping some contact with your work during the maternity leave period. Once you are off work and your new baby has arrived, you will be very busy so it makes sense to organise how you will have contact before you leave. Take time to think about how much contact you might want and also how your employer will communicate with you. Arranging a specific meeting with your supervisor to agree this will ensure everyone is clear about your preferences. Keeping in touch need not be a big commitment and should be kept flexible. Both you and your employer should feel that it is achievable.
There are a range of ways to maintain contact and not all require a lot of effort. Keeping in touch, even in a small way, can make a big difference to how easily you transition back in to the workplace at the end of your maternity leave.
There are various ways to keep in touch and arrangements for contact can be formal or informal.
How much or how little contact you have will depend on your situation and can largely be controlled by you. There are two sides to this of course and your employer does have a right to make reasonable contact with you. Additionally, showing willingness on your part to maintaining some contact during your maternity leave can send a message about how serious you are about your job. If you are intending to return to a career position, you should ensure that your name still pops up at work every now and again and you are not forgotten while you are away. A year is a long time in the world of work and you don’t want to miss out simply because you are ‘out of sight, therefore ‘out of mind.’
Many factors will influence how you intend to keep in touch and this will be different for everyone. Some organisations will already have a clear process for this which may include regular newsletters or invites to company events. They may provide a maternity mentor or buddy who contacts you regularly with news. Some may prefer a monthly chat on the phone or through Skype. Others like to visit their workplace but this is best done without your new baby as this can be rather distracting for obvious reasons!
When it comes to thinking about their future career, some women take the ‘I’ll wait and see how I feel after the baby arrives’ approach. This may appear to be a sensible way to go but it could be argued that being decisive about the terms of your return from maternity leave, demonstrates your commitment to your job, employer and career.
The decision, for example, to request a new work pattern is often driven by childcare options and the family income rather than career aspirations. It may therefore be a good time now, before you go on maternity leave, to think carefully about exactly what your plans are for the future. Even though you won’t know in advance how you will feel as a working mother, don’t close the door on a career that you may have worked hard for over many years for. It is easier to change your mind in the future when you will have a clearer understanding of your situation than to make the wrong decision now. Of course, you may not be in a job where you see a future for yourself. You may hope to go back to work for a while before having a second or subsequent baby and giving up work for the foreseeable future. Equally though, you may not be looking for a career but work in a pleasant workplace with a family friendly employer, which gives you a lot of job satisfaction. All these different scenarios provide different options and it is a good idea to think carefully about the benefits to you in the longer term, as part of your decision making process for your return.
Choosing to work in a flexible way is often not on your radar until you are thinking about becoming a parent. It is generally at this point that you begin to wonder whether your existing work pattern will fit in with your new family. If you already work for a business that employs others who work in a flexible way, it will be easy for you to see how this can work in practice. For those working for organisations where there is little or no flexible working, you might be tempted to rule out exploring this option before you even begin. Don’t be put off though, as with some thought and planning, you may find your employer more reasonable than you expected.
Theterm ‘flexible working’ describes a type of working arrangement which gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where and when you work. The flexibility can be in terms of working time, working location or the pattern of working. It does not necessarily mean reducing your hours of work and this can be good for those who are not in a position to reduce their income.
Flexible working practices include:
These are only examples and it may be that an alternative working arrangement may suit your particular circumstance and employment.
Working out what you want
Everyone’s situation is different and it is important to work out exactly what you and your family’s needs are, in order to find out if flexible working might be a good option for you. If you have a partner, it is worthwhile making time to discuss what both your preferences are with respect to being working parents. A good place to start might be by asking yourself these questions:
If you decide that you would like to explore the option to work flexibly in more depth, the next step would be to read your company policy (if there is one). If you have a company handbook, check this out first to see if you have a flexible working policy. This will explain the process you must follow to apply within your organisation. Under the statutory procedure, an employee can request a change in their working pattern if they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks.For a statutory application, the following steps apply:
NB. Remember, however, that although you have the right to request flexible working, you do not have the right to get it.
What should your written request include?
Before you put pen to paper, take time to think through exactly what your needs are and how this might work in practice with your job. Just stating that you wish to work 3 days per week is unlikely to result in your employer’s immediate agreement. You need to be able to demonstrate how you can still be a productive member of staff, fulfilling your role, but by working in a different way. Think about the tasks that you do on a daily basis. Could they be done during different hours, in a different location or by someone else? What effect, if any, do you think these changes will have on your job? You might need to ‘think outside the box’ for this. Do your research too. Speak to anyone else you know of who is working flexibly. Find out how it works for them and use this to support your request. The more effort you put in at this stage, the more likely your employer will be to agree to the changes.
In summary, your request should include any proposed changes to your existing work pattern including hours, days, location or anything else that might affect your terms and conditions of employment. Make sure you also include the date when you would like the new working pattern to begin and also whether you wish this to be a permanent change. (As part of a phased return to work after maternity, some women ask to work flexibly for a fixed term and then resume their previous work pattern after this time).
Your employer has a duty to give serious consideration to your request and if it is turned down, you can appeal against the decision.
Having your request turned down can be very disappointing particularly if the flexible work pattern was to fit in with childcare arrangements or if you want to spend some of your week at home with your baby. This might be a time to reassess your family’s needs with respect to your longer term plans and in some instances looking for another job with a more family friendly employer might be the best option for you.
If you are not absolutely sure about changing to flexible working, perhaps your employer would agree to let you have a trial run with the new work pattern? This would allow both parties to see how things are working. Some women choose to do this before their maternity leave starts allowing them to see in practice, how they will be able to do their job with the new work pattern. Holidays can be used to maintain a full time salary if necessary. If there is concern about whether the job can be done flexibly (as opposed to the person doing it), perhaps the person covering your role during your maternity leave, could trial it on your behalf before you return? This ‘proof of concept’ is good if you need to commit to childcare arrangements before you come back to work. Alternatively, you may wish to wait and do a trial period yourself when you return. This would need to work with your childcare of course but worth thinking about if you are unsure if the changes are right for you. Remember your terms and conditions of employment will be permanently changed if your request is approved.
If you intend to return to work after maternity, choosing the right childcare for your baby is one of the biggest decisions you will need to make as a working mother. There is a wealth of information available about the different types of childcare and much advice about how to choose the right care for your baby.
The most common types of childcare arrangements are as follows:
Formal (monitored by OFSTED)
Each choice has its own set of advantages and disadvantages and only you will know what would work best for your baby and your own set of circumstances. Asking other working parents about their childcare arrangements can help and word of mouth recommendations are invaluable. That said, one size does not fit all when it comes to childcare. This is a time in your life when going with your gut instinct is just as important as thorough research.
Before you make a decision about childcare, it’s important to consider not just the practical aspects such as location, cost etc. but also to think about the kind of routine and setting you would like for your baby. Ask yourself what is important to you and your partner about your baby’s care? It might be essential to have a key person who gets to know and look after your baby, or who will keep to the routine you have established, or perhaps you would like your baby to mix with other children? Different things will be important to different parents but you must ensure that you are completely happy with your choice. Starting early will help reduce any anxiety you may have around childcare arrangements and will also give you the best chance of getting the care that you prefer. Don’t forgot you can always change your mind later.
Here are some things which may be helpful to think about or ask when visiting a formal childcare setting:
The truth is that you are never going to be happy going back to work unless you are 100% confident about the arrangements you have made for your baby. It is therefore essential that you begin your research early and never feel that any decision is irreversible. There is much evidence to show that the early interactions that a baby experiences have a direct impact on shaping their future behaviours. Your baby should be able to form an attachment with a consistent carer who is sensitive to their needs. For this reason, choosing the right childcare for your baby is essential.
Things to think about
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Emma has a degree in Biochemistry, a diploma in antenatal education and a postgraduate diploma in HR. She spent the early part of her career as an HR Advisor working in the energy industry. Following the birth of her third child, Emma trained as a childbirth educator and began teaching for the National Childbirth Trust. At the same time she was Director of The Baby Gurus Ltd, a company which provided support and education for expectant and new parents in the workplace. Over the course of her work life, Emma has happily and successfully raised her 2 sons and daughter to adulthood, whilst living in Deeside, Scotland.
Read this book if you want to make the very most of your pregnancy journey while working. This book is written by a mum of three who has a diploma in both antenatal and human resource subjects as well as drawing on many other mothers’ experiences. This book covers topics such as planning for your maternity care, how to look after your pregnancy wellbeing, keeping your stress levels low and how to communicate with your employer effectively. It also offers a step by step guide on how best to plan your pregnancy journey at work. It’s full of practical advice and no-nonsense self-help tips including a pregnancy week by week checklist with key dates and deadlines. Don’t waste your time trying to work out the best way to deal with being pregnant and working. Get this book and do it the easy way and get the best out of a very unique and happy experience. Questions with the author: Q: Who is this book for? A: Anyone who is working and planning a pregnancy in the future and all those who are working and already pregnant. Q: Won’t my employer tell me all this? Or my midwife? A: No! Your employer has certain obligations which include keeping you safe at work and providing you with relevant maternity pay and leave provisions. They will advise you on their company maternity policy and your statutory rights but that is likely all they’ll do. Your midwife will see you a few times through your pregnancy to monitor the health of you and your baby and advise on motherhood. Although they will do their best to answer any questions you have, they are experts in maternity care, not employment.