During my first pregnancy I worked full-time as Deputy Communications Director at a Government Agency. It doesn't sound like a challenging job does it? Probably involved sitting behind a desk for most of the day taking it easy! In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Here's my story, along with a few (hopefully) helpful tips for other mums-to-be who find themselves in the same situation.
Challenge 1: The daily commute
My daily drive to work covered about 60 miles there and back - mostly along winding country roads. Before pregnancy the drive used to be a good chance to wind down and listen to a few tunes. During, it turned into a nauseating, uncomfortable, shattering daily challenge. During the first few months of pregnancy I could barely keep my eyes open, so navigating the curves and bumps of country roads was in itself a tough mental challenge - and that's before I got started with the morning sickness! I'm pretty sure that my fellow commuters got used to seeing me sat miserably by the side of the road, sick bag in hand, although most still stopped to see if I was OK, bless 'em!
How I coped: Ironically I found that the best way to avoid bringing my breakfast up was to eat lots of it! A small amount of cereal sloshing round my tummy was usually unceremoniously ejected by the time I got to work. A full-on feast of toast, tea, orange juice and perhaps a banana for good measure tended to stay put. Fibre heavy carbohydrates were the most reliable choice, so cornflakes were out and Weetabix (x3!) wholemeal or granary bread and bagels were in. Keeping a stash of crackers or biscuits in my desk helped to relieve nausea during the day.
Challenge 2: Non-stop (very boring) meetings
If you're already feeling a bit mentally drained there's nothing like the droning voice of your Accounts Director to really send you over the edge. With responsibility for communicating both internal and external news across the company, I usually had at least two or three daily meetings, most of them in rooms at opposite sides of our rather large office building!
How I coped: If you don't need to have a meeting then don't. I waved my growing belly under the noses of various department heads and convinced them to send me a weekly e-mail with top-line communication stories for the week. Anything I needed to expand on could usually be done over the phone. Any meetings I absolutely had to attend I asked to be organised as close to my office as I could. If you have a regular weekly meeting try block booking your closest meeting room in advance.
Challenge 3: The constant loo breaks!
As anyone who's ever been pregnant will know only to well, when you're up the duff you need to pee…a lot. Almost overnight my bladder when from being a steel trap to a water balloon, threatening to pop at any moment! Luckily my nearest loo was just down the hall but if yours is a bit of a trek you'll need to plan ahead.
How I coped: During your pregnancy your uterus will increase 1000 times it's normal size, bullying your poor bladder as it shoves everything else out of the way. I took my mother's good advice and went before I left…to go anywhere. Leaving for work? Pee first. Off to a meeting, loo break first - hell you might as well pop in for a quick pee break whenever you happen to pass the ladies. Chances are you'll need to go anyway.
Challenge 4: Coping with discrimination
For the most part I experienced full-on support and understanding from my colleagues during my pregnancy. However there were some cases, and some people who didn't seem particularly enthused about my new baby-bound condition. Having transferred into my role from another government agency only a few months before falling pregnant I found myself in a battle with our HR department over maternity rights and pay. In addition some of my longer serving colleagues made it very clear that they thought my pregnancy was 'inappropriate' given my limited service.
How I coped: I had worked in various government agencies for over five years and my sister is a HR Manager, so I knew my rights and was prepared to fight for them. I wouldn't tolerate discriminatory behaviour towards any of my pregnant staff and I sure wasn't going to take it when I was pregnant. Pregnant women in work are well protected by law so it helps to do your research when you discover you are with child. For information about your rights at work whilst pregnant visit www.direct.gov.uk.
Challenge 5: Defeating desk-inducing cramps
Tis a fact well known that if you sit at a desk for too long your butt will get sore. If you're pregnant you can add your legs, ankles, feet and back to that list too. My pregnancy-related aches and pains ranged from a slightly stiff lower back to full-on cramps and spasms. The bad news is that cramps are a perfectly normal part of pregnancy - carrying a baby puts immense pressure on your ligaments, muscles and even veins so it's not surprising that they occasionally give you a bit of grief. The good news that a short walk usually eases the problem, especially if it's to the work canteen for a bar of chocolate.
How I coped: Fitness might be the last thing on your mind right now, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can really make the difference when it comes to boosting your bodies ability to cope with the demands of pregnancy. I took regular walks round the block throughout the day and attended a pre-natal yoga course to help keep myself work-fit.
Challenge 6: Inability to perform manual tasks
Now don't get me wrong, lifting piles of magazines, box files and media displays aren't the most taxing of physical chores. But for some reason as my belly grew my arms seemed to get inexplicably shorter! I still had the strength to lift heavy-ish objects, but mostly I couldn't reach them anymore and even if I could I couldn't get them over my bump! By the time I hit seven months I'd lost most of my ability and all of my enthusiasm for lifting anything heavier than a huge mug of tea.
How I coped: Luckily my job didn't come with huge physical challenges and my director was pretty understanding when it came to my growing limitations. However if you're in a job where heavy lifting or machinery is a daily chore then make your manager aware of your condition and the limitations on your ability. Every workplace in the UK is required to take care of pregnant staff by law and if that means giving you a temporary break from the heavy stuff then so be it. If you're feeling a bit guilty about passing on the manual jobs, you can always offer to take on a few lighter tasks.
Challenge 7: Keeping baby safe
For the first few months of being pregnant I was scared of almost everything. Cats, cheese, eggs, bumps, lying down and standing up! There wasn't a thing it seemed that didn't carry some sort of potential threat to the helpless little human growing inside me. Did my paranoia subside as I got used to being a mum-to-be? In a word, no. As my workplace was natural science-based the environment around me contained chemicals, machinery and even livestock, all of which carried potential pregnancy-related risks.
How I coped: Luckily my very experienced occupational health team were on hand to tell where I could and couldn't go and what I could and couldn't handle. If you work with chemicals or animals you should tell your manager as soon as you know you're pregnant as it may be that you need to be excluded from certain areas for your and your baby's safety.
More top tips for working whilst pregnant
If it makes you feel sick, don't eat it
That creamy cappuccino may have been your daily treat before the bump but if it's making your stomach churn then cut it out. Don't worry; you'll get back to normal eventually. Curry was my killer smell whilst pregnant, much to my poor, Biryani-loving husband's dismay.
Eat little and often
I found that keeping myself fairly full on bland foods like Ryvita, lightly buttered toast or bananas helped to alleviate sickness throughout the day. Keep a stash of essential snacks in your desk.
Drink plenty of water
You'll need to go to the loo every five minutes anyway so you may as well stay hydrated. It's healthy for you and your baby, helps your body to run itself at an optimum level and can help keep sickness at bay.
Take a break
If you're feeling tired, try talking a short walk to boost your energy. A change of scene and bit of fresh air will make all the difference.
Cut back where you can
The Internet is a gift for pregnant women! Rather than trudging round the shops you can order your groceries, clothes, music, baby essentials, maternity clothing and partners birthday present online.
Get a good nights sleep
Whilst pregnant my daily bedtime went from around 11pm at one month gone, to 10pm at around five months and eventually all the way to 9pm. Aim to get at least seven hours shut-eye a night, nine is better. And remember, once junior arrives you won't get any sleep, so enjoy it while you can!