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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Gestating on The Job: Guidelines for Staying Sane

Many pregnancy guides offer practical tips for working while pregnant: remember to leave your desk and stretch at least twice an hour, prop your feet up whenever you can, stock your desk drawers with healthy snacks.

While this advice is useful, it won’t help you navigate through the interesting social situations that arise for pregnant women on the job—like how to focus on responding to email when all you want to do is work on your Pinterest baby board, or how to exit a conversation with someone who, despite the advancements in modern maternity policy, insists on referring to your pregnancy as an “impending medical condition.”

I’ve been lucky in that my colleagues and manager have been incredibly supportive and appropriately curious about my pregnancy. That being said, like all pregnant women, I have encountered some interesting workplace predicaments. I highly recommend implementing these five guidelines to help you stay sane while gestating on the job.

1. Allow yourself 30 minutes of baby time every day

It’s true that the routine activities of the workday serve as effective distractions from some of the discomforts of pregnancy. It’s easy to ignore the backaches and cravings when I’m running (soon to be waddling) from one-hour long meeting to the next. However, about once a day, I’ll be deeply involved in a project or conversation with a colleague and suddenly think, “OHMIGOD THERE IS A TINY, HELPLESS HUMAN BEING GROWING INSIDE OF ME!”

This realization is usually followed by a mini-panic attack, in which I convince myself that I am failing to prepare thoroughly for my baby’s arrival. I’ll begin cataloguing books I haven’t read yet, baby essentials I haven’t bought, and situations I feel ill equipped to handle (I’m supposed to take his temperature where?)

To avoid this daily mind-rupture, I’ve started to allow myself 30 minutes of “baby time” each day, usually as I eat my lunch(es) at my desk. I use this time to research day care providers, add items to my baby registry, and list the names of parents I knew growing up who surely screwed up their kids far worse than I will mine. It’s very soothing.

2. Just let them touch your belly

Everyone loves pregnant women’s bellies. People just can’t get enough of them. Comments that would have sent me into a rage months ago—“You’re so big! Your stomach is huge!”—are now considered words of endearment.

When strangers touch your belly, it can be uncomfortable. And many pregnancy guides provide tips for “setting boundaries” and being firm about your belly-rubbing preferences. My advice? Just let people touch your stomach. Sometimes it’s weird, but it’s significantly less awkward than having a conversation about how you’d rather not to be touched as your co-worker stands in front of you, hands hovering 5 inches from your navel.

3. Encourage people to spread the word

When you’re pregnant, you’re asked the same questions over and over—is it a boy or a girl? Have you chosen a name? Are you craving anything? When are you due?

I’ve saved a lot of energy over the past few months by being very explicit with my co-workers when I give them pregnancy updates: This information has been approved for distribution. For example, when I found out that I was having a boy, I made sure everyone knew that they could tell anyone.

Of course, it’s fantastic that your co-workers want to be in the know, but answering the same questions over and over can be exhausting. By making all information public knowledge, you’ll save yourself some valuable breath. Put it in your email signature, make it the opening slide of your PowerPoint, chat about it in line for coffee—whatever. I decided that if it means I have to tell one less person, great!

4. Smile and say thank you

People lie to pregnant women. Over the past 5 months, I’ve been shocked by how many people lie straight to my face. Most of these lies are in the form of compliments and reassurances. For example, “I’ve never seen you look more beautiful in your life. Your skin is absolutely luminous.” That’s nice of you to say, but my skin is a disaster, and I’m pretty sure I looked slightly more beautiful five months ago, sans varicose veins and stretch marks.

Though you may feel like responding with a lengthy list of why you look and feel your worst, it’s best to accept these compliments with a thank you. Enjoy the treatment while you can—I’ve noticed that people don’t tend to view new mothers’ dark circles or flabby bellies in quite the same light.

5. Listen to all of the advice. Some of it will be good

Because pregnancy and parenthood are milestones that many of your co-workers have experienced, they’ll likely want to share their war stories with you and offer words of wisdom. (You may remember this phenomenon from when you were planning your wedding.)

It’s important to accept all advice gratefully, even if you wholeheartedly disagree. For example, if a co-worker insists that his wife only gained 20 pounds during her pregnancy by cutting out sugar and refined carbs, do your best to stretch your face into an interested, appreciative grimace (you may want to practice at home with your partner) and respond, “Well good for her. GOOD FOR HER.” But if, on the other hand, a co-worker mentions that her baby slept through the night at six weeks because of her miracle nighttime bath routine—put some time on her calendar and take notes!

Of course, there are still days when the combination of exhaustion and irritability renders me less than an ideal employee, but, heeding the good advice (see #5) of many mom-veterans, I cut myself a little slack, and you should too. You are creating life, after all.

Photo of pregnant woman courtesy of Shutterstock.