Whether those two pink lines were planned, prayed for, or a total mind-blowing surprise, finding out you’re expecting carries many emotions. Once you’ve processed this huge news, it’s time to plan. Beyond nursery themes, baby names, and diet adjustments, financial planning is probably top of mind. You’re not alone if you’re anticipating working full-time during your pregnancy, as I did. The number of women who work while pregnant with their first child has increased, often tied to economic constraints. Between 1961 and 1965, 44.4% of women who gave birth for the first time worked during that pregnancy. Between 2016 and 2019, 66.4% of women worked during the pregnancy before the birth of their first child.1
Just because working during pregnancy has become commonplace, it doesn’t mean pregnant women are always adequately prepared or have support navigating the nuances of workplace etiquette. I was lost at various points throughout my pregnancy, trying to juggle my career, fight extreme pregnancy fatigue and nausea, and advocate for my legal and medical rights regarding my pending maternity leave. Here are some of the ins and outs of everything you should know about working during pregnancy so you’re ready. But remember to listen to your body (and your medical team!) to determine the best plan for you.
When to Tell Your Boss If You’re Working During Pregnancy
Blurting out you’re pregnant during your Monday morning team meeting or at the holiday party post-karaoke doesn’t feel quite right. Whether you’re excited to share this personal news or dreading the logistical nightmare that awaits you often depends on how supportive and communicative your workplace environment is. There’s no specific point in your pregnancy when you must tell your boss you’re expecting, but it’s best to consider the nature of your work. Is your job physically demanding? Do you have a ton of travel scheduled for the end of your pregnancy when you know your doctor would prefer you weren’t flying across the globe?
Most women opt to disclose their pregnancy shortly after their first trimester—when the chance of miscarriage has decreased significantly—and before their pregnancy has started to show noticeably.2 Whatever you decide, make sure your boss is the first to know. That means keeping your lips sealed when chatting with trusted colleagues (even with your work BFF, who you usually confide in over morning coffee).
Is It Okay to Work Up Until Your Due Date?
It is absolutely okay to work up until your baby’s due date; for many women, it’s a strategic financial and logistical decision. I went into labor two hours after my work day ended and three days before my official due date. The most critical factor in your decision should be responding to your body’s cues and being mindful not to overexert yourself if you’re working during your pregnancy.
Some types of work can increase the risks of having a premature baby, such as jobs involving heavy lifting, excessive noise, or standing for long hours.3 Talk with your doctor about obtaining a medical order to alter your work duties and eliminate some physical stressors. Familiarize yourself with the law in your state to determine what reasonable accommodations your workplace is required to make at your request. If you have a pregnancy or childbirth-related medical need, often your employer must make changes to your work duties or schedule if it will help you stay healthy on the job. Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, and four cities have passed laws requiring some employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.4
Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:5
- Light duty, help with lifting, or a temporary transfer to a less physically demanding position.
- Breaks to drink water
- Occasional breaks to rest
- Time off for prenatal or postnatal appointments, recovery from childbirth, or before delivery if you have a medical need for time off
- Modified work schedule
When It’s Time to Stop Working During Pregnancy
Don’t ignore the discomfort. Listen to your body and respond proactively to what it tells you. After all, each pregnancy is different, and each woman will have a unique variety of physical and emotional experiences. When sitting and standing are uncomfortable, with swollen legs and feet, backaches, or breathlessness, it can signify that you need bed rest. And if you’re having symptoms of early labor with pain, cramping, or spotting, you need immediate medical attention.3 If you’re working during pregnancy and worried your job may be dangerous but aren’t sure, you can’t request a Health Hazard Evaluation.6 This is a free service from the CDC that assesses the risks involved in a particular job and offers suggestions on reducing risk.
How to Best Prepare for Your Leave
Each job has different caveats, but it’s best to create a plan with the team you work with regularly so there is a smooth transition to your leave. Will someone need to be temporarily hired in your absence? Will you need to train a coworker to fulfill your regular duties? Ensuring that any big projects are complete before you leave is ideal, but as we all know, babies don’t care about work deadlines. Their debut in the world is the first of a lifetime full of reminders that you are no longer on your schedule but on the schedule of the tiny human you created.
If you work with many external teams, it’s best to inform them that you’ll be away from the office and direct them to the best point of contact in your absence. Know your rights in advance; according to employment law, HR and managers should not call you into work for any reason during Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off. Occasional phone calls may be okay, but your employer should postpone workplace investigations and even promotion discussions until you return.7
How Much Time Should You Take Off?
This depends mainly on your circumstances. Six weeks is the minimum paid family leave recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) for all workers at 100 percent pay. ACOG cites the importance of paid parental leave to benefit the new baby and the new mother, including decreased infant mortality, improved health of the child and mother, improvements in worker morale and retention, and increased income. While six weeks has long been the traditional timeline for rest and recovery after birth, ACOG recommends ongoing postpartum care from birth to 12 weeks.9
While I would have liked to have taken some time leading up to my delivery—like many women—I opted to save all my vacation and sick time so I could tack it on to my post-birth period. For me, it was essential to prioritize and elongate the time I would have postpartum with my baby to heal, recover, and bond as a family.
Parental Leave Varies
Every state and employer is different regarding parental leave, so doing your research is critical. The employer I was working for during my pregnancy offered no paid maternity leave.8 However, because of my state, I was legally permitted to take time off for prenatal visits, childbirth, recovery, or ordered bed rest, thanks to FMLA, which allows full-time employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Only 19 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave through their employers, and just 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. Unpaid FMLA leave provides essential job protections, but it is available to fewer than 60 percent of workers—and many can’t afford to take it.10
Whether you decide to work during your pregnancy or not, avoid comparing your circumstance with anyone else’s. This is your life, and no one else’s experience is the same. While it’s tempting to buy into the hype that you need to bounce back into your pre-pregnancy life and routine as soon as possible (work deadlines and all)—resist falling into that trap. This is a unique, challenging, beautiful, incredible chapter in life, and it will be a memory in your book before you know it. So, listen to your body, research, and be your biggest advocate.