Pregnancy at work need not be a bumpy ride
When you’re expecting a baby, there’s a lot to think about — at the office as well as at home. Lucia Cockcroft guides mums, and colleagues, through being pregnant at work
Pregnant? Excited? Or just dreading the moment you have to break the news to your boss and colleagues? Because negotiating the office when pregnant isn’t always easy. There are the hurdles of breaking the news, keeping your professional cool and legally, knowing your stuff.
When Hana Fincher found out she was expecting her first child, she had the dubious distinction of being the first person in her office to become pregnant. Breaking the news at work was made more daunting by Fincher having only been with her employer, insurance brokers, Savage & Bullock, for six months.
But it isn’t always about telling your boss — informing your coworkers can be just
as difficult. Should you send out a mass email? Get people together and spill the beans? Tell the loudest member of the office and wait for news to spread?
Alexia Treadway, a project administrator, decided to take the face-to-face approach.
“I gathered my colleagues
and said ‘I have something to tell you’. They all looked stricken. When I announced I was pregnant they looked completely relieved.”
When it comes to telling bosses and colleagues the big news, Patricia Carswell, a life coach for mothers and pregnant women, says there are no hard and fast rules. The trick is to treat the issue as any other work-related announcement: with confidence and consideration. “Don’t be apologetic about your pregnancy”, she advises. “It’s not something to be ashamed of. Don’t feel you have to act as if you are letting everyone down.”
At the same time, don’t be upset if your workmates don’t show the same levels of delight as you feel, Carswell says: “However wonderful the news of a baby, the fact is it is likely to leave your employer and colleagues with logistical — and possibly financial — hurdles. Expect them to be supportive, but don’t hold out for outright joy.”
Certainly Treadway says that joy wasn’t her colleagues’ first reaction. With hindsight, Treadway says she would have chosen to send a carefully worded email instead. “At least that way people have a chance to contemplate what they are going to say.”
Telling all your colleagues at the same time is the best strategy to minimise bad feeling if word leaks out.
Knowing when to break the news of a baby is a lesser minefield than choosing how. Many women wait until after the three-month stage to make an announcement, though a visible bump or debilitating morning sickness may be good reasons to come clean early.
Sian Evans, a stores and distribution training specialist for Tesco, decided to inform her boss only six weeks into her pregnancy. “My husband and I had made a decision to tell work after three months, but I didn’t have an easy start,”
she says. “I had a few pains and felt very drained. I wanted to make sure my boss knew why I was feeling under the weather.” Evans’ decision clearly paid off — she was promoted to a more senior role during her pregnancy.
Whatever approach you take, knowing your rights is important, says Tim Mungeam, HR management consultant and founding CEO of parenting charity Parentalk: “Make sure you know what you are entitled to. Consult your company handbook and find out who in your company to talk to for advice — the HR department, for example. If you encounter any resistance, or problems, get your argument straight so you can understand your situation from your employer’s perspective as well as your own.”
Once the news of a baby’s arrival is out in the open, remaining focused on work
is likely to be the next challenge. Coming across as presentable and professional can be a headache if you’re feeling tired and queasy — or even if you’re not.
If you find your attention wandering, Catharine Parker-Littler, a midwife for the pregnancy advice website www.firstresponsefertility.com, says plenty can be done to help office concentration and comfort levels. Any physical discomfort worsened by sitting in front of the computer can be countered by taking frequent breaks to walk around. “Mental alertness can be a problem for pregnant women,” Parker-Littler says, “but recent research has shown that getting enough omega-3, perhaps in the form of flax seeds or oily fish once a week, can help with mental alertness.”
Keep your cool, even when your colleagues momentarily forget their manners. And remember, while breaking the news may seem daunting, research by the UK Equal Opportunities Commission suggests most employers have a positive attitude to pregnancy, and many firms are also waking up to the fact that parents often make more conscientious and efficient employees. In fact, your boss may even be more thrilled than you are.