When Connie Tan discovered she was pregnant, she was thrilled. but the 38-year-old marketing director’s joy soon turned to panic when she started thinking about how she was going to deal with her pregnancy on top of her super-stressful job.
“My role is very demanding and I work long hours,” says Connie, who has since given birth to a healthy baby boy. “I experienced terrible bouts of morning sickness in the early months and struggled to make it through the day. I only took sick leave if I really had to, and even then, it made me feel bad, like I was letting my team down.
“My boss, though generally understanding, would raise his eyebrows every time I told him I had to leave the office to go home and rest – that made me want to work even harder the next day, just to prove that I was still capable of doing my job,” she adds.
Account executive Nora Lim endured a difficult pregnancy too. She says that after the sixth month, she considered quitting her job because she was so mentally and physically drained.
“I was pretty huge and found it difficult to move around and go for meetings with clients,” says the 40-year-old. “It was hell just walking to the parking lot and sitting in my car in heavy traffic. I’d return to the office afterwards, but by that point I was so tired and spaced out that I could barely function. On really bad days, I contemplated quitting because I felt so overwhelmed.”
Make it known – then make a plan
There’s no reason to feel guilty about being a pregnant career woman, says Alka Chandiramani, a career coach at Alvo Connexions. “The first and most important thing to do, once you find out that you’re pregnant, is to let your bosses know. If you’re suffering from morning sickness, or if your doctor has warned you that you might have a difficult pregnancy, inform your bosses so they know what to expect,” Alka advises.
“If your morning sickness is severe, it might help to make note of the time of day it occurs, so you can organise your work schedule to accommodate how you are feeling. For example, if you usually feel sick in the afternoons, you might try to complete more difficult tasks first thing in the morning, or don’t schedule big meetings for after lunch.”
You may also wish to delegate certain tasks to others on your team, work from home on certain days, reduce your workload or even consider a change in your role for the duration of your pregnancy. Whatever you decide, Alka says you should reassure your bosses that you’ll try your best to maintain your job standards and meet your KPIs (key performance indicators).
Make your work arrangement clear to your bosses and colleagues, so that everyone knows what needs to be done in case you have to take sick leave urgently. “As long as they know the work will be done, most bosses would be quite understanding towards a pregnant employee, and would be willing to give her support or accommodate any changes,” Alka adds.
Time management is key
Running a team, attending meetings and trying to fulfil deadlines are overwhelming enough. What if you also have to fit in your medical appointments?
When Jacqueline Chua found out that she was pregnant a couple of years ago, she made sure to schedule her doctor’s appointments well in advance, then planned her work meetings and project deadlines around them.
“My health and that of my unborn baby were top priority. I didn’t want to overload myself and then miss a medical appointment because I was too busy or stressed,” says the 38-year-old IT consultant.
If need be, Alka says, plan your calendar with your team. Make sure they are aware of when you have to see your doctor, so that they, too, will not schedule meetings that will clash with your medical appointments. And it might be wise to have a contingency plan in case you go into labour early.
Be comfortable so you work better
Your comfort during the day should be one of your top priorities. The better you feel, the less likely it is that you’ll need to take time off from work. Jasveer Malaney, an executive leadership coach from Acquire Global Coaching, suggests wearing comfortable clothes and shoes, and to keep your feet elevated while at your desk to relieve the pressure. You should also remember to drink water throughout the workday to stay hydrated and reduce bloating.
You should also try to avoid having a big lunch, as this might make you feel worse. Instead, eat small meals frequently throughout the day. This will also keep your blood sugar levels constant and prevent energy spikes and crashes.
It’s normal to worry that your pregnancy might slow down your career. This is where being honest with your boss counts, says Alka. “Being pregnant can affect the way you approach your work. You’re fatigued, your hormones are all over the place, you may be stressed or anxious, you may have trouble focusing or be easily confused, you may need extra bed rest, and you just have more on your plate. It’s important to keep the lines of communication between you and your boss open.”
Be realistic about what you can and can’t do, but make it clear to your boss that you’re on top of all the tasks that you can take on. When you’re at work, be fully present and have your finger on the pulse.
Stay connected during your maternity leave
You’re entitled to four months of maternity leave after you give birth. For some women, this break can be a scary situation – it’s a long time to be away from the office, and you never know what can happen in your absence.
Some women choose to divide their maternity leave into parts, perhaps taking a stretch of two months and then taking a day off every week until their entitlement ends. However, most new mums want the time with Baby, preferring to take the four months at a stretch, and even, extending it with no-pay leave.Whatever you decide, let your bosses know early.
Making long-term plans is useful, says corporate communications executive Lydia Pereira, who fell pregnant with her second child last year. “I had to take extended medical leave during my pregnancy because of complications, and I didn’t want to be overlooked for an upcoming promotion just because I was away from work so much.
“So I spoke to my boss about my role post-maternity leave and discussed how I’d follow up on certain projects that had to be put on hold. I wanted to be able to pick up where I left off,” says the 35-year-old. “Talking about it with my boss showed that I took my career seriously and was keen to make a difference after I came back from my leave.”
While you may wish to fully focus on your baby during your maternity leave, it pays to stay connected with your bosses and team. Let your colleagues know which projects you want to keep loose tabs on, which major decisions you’d like to weigh in on and what you’d like to be kept updated on. It goes a long way to showing that you’re still committed to your job – and has the added benefit of helping you ease back into work when you return from leave.
This article was originally published in Simply Her January 2015.