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Blog Insight & Commentary

10 Weird Things That Happen When You’re Pregnant at Work

Most of them are scientific, but at least one is discrimination, which is *still* illegal

Deborah Hill
Contributor

crying pregnant woman

My two sons were born 13 months apart, and I still shake my head, thinking back to that chaotic time. It was quite the rollercoaster ride learning how to simultaneously cope with work, second pregnancy, and new parenting responsibilities. Here are a few of the things I wish I had known back then.

1. Your hair will change

Doctors used to recommend that you skip hair-coloring during the first trimester of pregnancy. Truth is, a baby’s risk of exposure to hair-coloring chemicals is not well understood. The American Pregnancy Association now says the risk is minimal, and expectant moms can color their hair without fear. But don’t be surprised if your hairs’ receptivity to color is different—pregnancy hormones change the texture of hair too. Some women say their hair feels thicker while others say their hair feels thinner. Most women, however, experience some hair loss after giving birth as estrogen levels return to normal. So don’t panic. It’s all part of the journey. 

2. You might need new shoes

Swollen feet is a common complaint of expectant mothers—especially if you’re used to wearing high heels. But there is more happening to your feet than you might realize. A slew of research shows that most women experience a permanent change in foot size as a result of pregnancy. And, the most significant change—between 2 and 10 millimeters—happens during a woman's first pregnancy. What's more, pregnancy weight and the hormone relaxin (which is loosening up your ligaments in anticipation of giving birth) causes a permanent loss of arch height. So, your foot flattens out some.

Take care of yourself and choose some stylish shoes that give you plenty of support.

3. Your walk will become...a waddle

If you’ve always been graceful as a gazelle, it’s a shock when to start tripping over your feet. A woman’s center of gravity shifts forward during pregnancy, causing her to lean backward as a counterbalance. Plus, thanks again to the hormone relaxin, hip joints are loosening, making you walk “wider” than before. This also makes it more likely to lose your balance. So give yourself plenty of time to get to your next meeting.

4. Expect to care less about your clothes

Research shows that it’s pretty normal to feel ambivalent about maternity wear. It represents the transition to a new and altered identity. For some women, it’s a way to embrace changing roles in life. Others want to hold on to how they have always viewed themselves.

Unless you live in a big city (and even then), it can be hard to find affordable maternity clothes for work that suit your personal style. That was certainly true for me. Never in my life had I worn Peter Pan collars, polka dots, or bows! The cutesy designs made me feel like a (waddling) dowdy clown. It did not improve my self-esteem. These days though, retailers and designers are getting better at translating different clothing styles into maternity wear fashion.

Read more: Work-Friendly Maternity Clothes: Where to Find Them, Fast

5. Fiber will become your best friend

Yes, as you wobble along dressed as a circus tent, you'll also have to grapple with flatulence, bloating, and constipation. Thank you to the hormones relaxin and progesterone. Food moves more slowly through the digestive system while you're pregnant, and this causes, well, things to get backed up. It’s uncomfortable for sure, and potentially quite embarrassing at work! Increase your fiber to help move things along, and take your time in the bathroom (you don’t want hemorrhoids too). You’re doing some serious construction inside, and things are just not going to run along like usual.

6. Your computer screen might look blurry 

Even your eyes and eyesight may change during pregnancy. It’s very common for women to experience watery eyes, uncomfortably dry eyes, blurry vision that comes and goes, and even difficulty wearing contact lenses. In extreme cases, some women even experience a change in eyesight prescription as a result of water retention and hormones. Rest assured, your eyes and eyesight will go back to normal after the baby is born. In the meantime, stock up on moisturizing eye drops and tissues, and plan to take more frequent breaks from the computer screen.

7. Your coworkers’ perfume might be too much

No one likes it when a coworker heats up something stinky in the communal microwave or opens a tin of kippered fish for lunch. But this is especially so for pregnant women. Sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy, and it's not uncommon to be very sensitive to scents. Things you never noticed before—like cleaning supplies, strongly spiced food, and even coffee—might now make you nauseous. This, too, will pass.

8. You encyclopedic memory might falter

Research does show that pregnant women experience a loss of memory function. Try not to get too stressed if you notice this happening. Studies also show the changes in memory are so minor only you and those closest to you will notice. 

9. You might be excluded from networking and social events

It's a common thing in the work culture to have a few drinks together after work. You might find that you're not invited now that you're pregnant. Feel free to let your mates know you're still up for some after-work bonding—you can always order a seltzer or nonalcoholic cocktail.

Read more: How to Handle Happy Hours When You Don’t Want to Drink

10. You might (legitimately) feel dismissed

Being pregnant is like a magnet for other people’s opinions (not to mention people touching your belly without permission!). I recall male colleagues who treated me as an equal before I was pregnant, suddenly asking me why I planned to return to work since I had a husband.

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is, unfortunately, widespread, and it can take many forms. Is your boss treating you differently now that you’re pregnant? Maybe assigning you puff projects instead of the usual meaty, high-profile work you usually do? Talk with your supervisor about whether you need work accommodations—or not.

Read more: 21 Tweets That Illustrate the Reality of Pregnancy Discrimination

Women who work in physically strenuous jobs may need some adjustments to their work to safely carry their child to term. The New York Times wrote a heartbreaking story about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace that resulted in miscarriages.

Bottom line, take care of yourself and your child first, and stay in close communication with your supervisor. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, talk with HR. And if that doesn't result in appropriate changes, consider speaking with an attorney.

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FAQ: How to Time-Manage Your Pregnancy at Work

December 5, 2019 by Deborah Hill