Pregnancy is a transformative period both personally and professionally.
Many people continue to work full-time while they’re pregnant, and this can be both rewarding and exhausting. Balancing the demands of a career with the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy requires thoughtful planning and open communication.
Alongside figuring out when to announce your pregnancy, you need to think about any accommodations you need to better manage your physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as understand your legal rights if you’re working while pregnant. Below, learn what to expect from your team and employer, how to continue working safely while pregnant, how to set boundaries, and when you can expect to stop working so you can handle this transition with confidence.
What to legally expect from your employer when you’re pregnant
If you’re working while pregnant, you may be entitled to protections under various legislation. Here are three examples.
1. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Here are a few protections it offers to pregnant employees:
Your job is not permitted to be altered in any way because of your pregnancy. That applies to firing you, modifying your job duties in any way, or requesting that you take a leave of absence.
If you’re pregnant, you do not need to complete any special procedures or tests to evaluate your job performance unless it’s also required for all non-pregnant employees.
Your benefits and paid time off cannot be affected. You also do not forfeit promotion eligibility.
Under employer-provided health care, pregnancy conditions must be treated the same as other health conditions. You cannot be forced to pay a larger deductible.
Any pregnancy-related conditions that prevent you from working must be treated in the same way that other short-term disabilities are treated.
2. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA doesn’t specifically classify pregnancy as a disability, but if a pregnant employee experiences complications or health issues related to the pregnancy that meet the ADA's definition of a disability, they may be entitled to reasonable accommodations.
For example, if you develop a medical condition such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, your employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations. These could include adjustments to work duties, flexible scheduling, or modified workplace conditions.
It's important to note that the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
3. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The FMLA typically provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, but you can also take leave under the FMLA prior to giving birth.
For example, if your doctor suggests you be on bed rest for two weeks before giving birth, you could take those two weeks of job-protected leave, and then you’d have 10 more weeks of remaining unpaid time off after the birth of your child.
You must have worked at your company for at least 12 months before you can take leave under FMLA, and your company must employ 50 or more employees in order for you to qualify.
How to safely work and travel while pregnant
Certain working conditions can increase the risk of pregnancy complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of these conditions may include:
Exposure to harmful substances like chemicals and toxins
Heavy lifting, climbing, or carrying
It’s important to make sure your employer is aware of these risks. Discuss any concerns or accommodations you may need, like taking breaks to rest and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing. Open communication is key to ensuring a supportive work environment.
Always pay attention and listen to your body. If you feel fatigued or uncomfortable, take a break. Regularly consult with your healthcare provider to monitor your health and address any concerns and follow their advice regarding work-related activities and restrictions.
Can you travel for work while pregnant?
In general, air travel is considered safe for most pregnant women up to 36 weeks, but you should always consult your doctor before flying if you’re pregnant.
Many airlines have policies regarding pregnant passengers, and some may have restrictions on travel during the later stages of pregnancy, typically around the third trimester. Airlines may require a medical certificate confirming that you’re fit to fly, especially if you’re close to your due date.
When deciding whether to fly for work while pregnant, it's important to consider factors such as the duration of the flight, destination, and any potential health risks associated with flying, such as the risk of blood clots. You should also stay hydrated, move around during the flight, and follow any recommendations provided by your doctor.
Boundaries and accommodations at work while you’re pregnant
While pregnant, you might experience more discomfort at work. You might be dealing with morning sickness, extreme fatigue, carpal tunnel, or even insomnia. No matter what you’re experiencing, you need to be establishing and maintaining boundaries at work in order to remain healthy.
These are a few types of boundaries you might want to set:
Mental and emotional boundaries: This might entail deciding when to take time off for yourself, delegating workloads so you're not overwhelmed, and giving yourself permission to say no to job opportunities if you don’t have the bandwidth.
Time and communication boundaries: These types of boundaries might include saying no to working on the weekends, not checking your work email during family time, and using your paid time off or mental health days to rest and prepare for your baby.
Physical boundaries: Examples of physical boundaries could include closing your office door when you need quiet time, eating lunch in your office in case you feel nauseous, offering handshakes instead of hugs, and declining for coworkers to touch your baby bump.
Here are some examples of accommodations you may need to set during your pregnancy:
Dress code modifications: Ask to wear more comfortable clothing and footwear to accommodate your changing body in order to reduce physical discomfort or stress.
More frequent breaks: If you sit at a desk, get up and walk around or stretch every 45 minutes to an hour.
Less hours on your feet: If you work on your feet, ask your manager if you can sit for some, if not all, of your tasks. Ensure your workspace is ergonomically friendly by adjusting your chair, desk, and computer to promote good posture and reduce strain on your body.
Reduced or flexible hours: Talk to your boss about modifying your work schedule or potentially working remotely a few more days a week. Make sure you have adequate time off to get to and from doctor appointments and utilize your paid time off to rest.
Exemptions from certain tasks: If you normally lift heavy objects or work around toxic chemicals, ask your boss if you can temporarily reassess or rearrange your job responsibilities.
Food and drinks at your desk: Always keep a cold water bottle or ginger ale at your desk to help alleviate nausea. Having a stash of bland snacks like saltine crackers, ginger candies, and raw veggies can also help with nausea.
It’s crucial to acknowledge and prioritize your mental health when you’re pregnant. Fluctuations in hormones coupled with the anticipation of parenthood, financial concerns, and worries about your baby’s health can affect your mood and emotions, and some women may experience mood swings, heightened emotions, or changes in anxiety levels. Try to communicate openly with your manager about how you’re feeling and if it’s affecting your work performance.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really need. For example, perhaps your coworkers have offered to throw you a baby shower celebration, but you actually really need pre-cooked meals or childcare for your other children. Let them know how they can take care of you and show their support.
When should you stop working during pregnancy?
Many pregnant people work up until the final weeks or days of their pregnancy, while others may choose to stop working earlier for health or personal reasons.
The decision for a pregnant employee to stop working typically depends on various factors, including their health, their type of work (physically demanding or sedentary), the presence of workplace hazards, any medical complications, and the employer’s policies.
Some reasons why you might stop working earlier or reduce your hours during your pregnancy include:
You're at risk for preterm labor, which includes women who are expecting twins or multiples
You have high blood pressure or are at risk for preeclampsia
You have a history of stillbirth or late miscarriage
Your baby isn't growing properly or you have intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)
Employers often have specific policies in place for birthing parent parental leave, disability accommodations, or flexible work arrangements to support you in managing your work responsibilities as your due date approaches. Leave for birthing parents, for example, typically begins in the weeks leading up to your expected due date and continues on for a few weeks after you give birth. If your company doesn’t offer any kind of parental leave, you can ask for it.
It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider to estimate when it might be appropriate to start parental leave. When planning for your leave, you’ll need to identify key responsibilities and tasks that will need to be handled in your absence, and work with your manager and team to delegate tasks and help with the transition.
And finally, once you do decide to stop working, you’ll need to update your email (and voicemail) with out-of-office messages that indicate your parental or maternity leave dates and offer alternative contacts if necessary. You can read more about that here: A Maternity Leave Out-of-Office Message to Use.