For some women, the pregnancy period can feel like a full-time job. What with the discomforts and symptoms that could be as mild as nausea to as severe as headaches, backaches and vomiting. With many more women taking up full time career jobs, the pressure can seem to be overwhelming especially in work environments where the woman is expected not to slack in her responsibilities and productivity level regardless of her state. In Nigeria where the provisions on maternity protection in the Labour Act are grossly inadequate and do not sufficiently cater for the needs of working women, women are vulnerable to discriminatory actions by employers where they are continually displaced or dismissed from their places of work due to pregnancies, childbirth and other related issues.
Regardless of this shortfall, the pregnant employee can strive to get the best of both worlds by being adequately informed and prepared.
What to expect at work
Dr Olumide Ajayi an obstetrician/gynaecologist points out some symptoms the pregnant employee would have to deal with at work. “Though being pregnant does not mean a woman is ill and incapacitated, the pregnant employee should not force and overburden herself in a bid to be supermom and employee of the year at the same time. She needs to listen to her body which is doing a lot of work in growing and carrying life. There are ways she can get around to still being productive; it takes a bit of planning.
“Fatigue: Your biggest challenge will probably be fighting tiredness especially during the first and late third trimesters. You can handle this by using part of your lunch break to nap in your car or office. Try to take short walks, even if it’s just around the office. Be physically active; stand up and stretch every couple of hours to relieve aches and stiffness. Ensure you eat foods rich in iron and protein such as red meat, poultry, seafood, leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified whole-grain cereal and beans as fatigue can be a symptom of iron deficiency anaemia.
“Frequent restroom visits: Frequent urination is expected during pregnancy, especially at the third trimester when the weight of the uterus (womb) puts pressure on the bladder. It is natural and expected. Pregnant women should not reduce the intake of water because they want to limit bathroom visits. Your body and baby need water. Also, dehydration can increase the risk of contracting a urinary tract infection. There’s no way around this, but the woman should ensure proper hygiene when cleaning up. Ensure that the bladder empties completely and keep the genital area dry to prevent infections.”
“Morning sickness: Although it is called morning sickness, the feeling of nausea and sometimes actual vomiting can hit you at any time in the day. You need to study your body and discover what triggers the feeling of nausea. For some, the aroma of certain foods can set it off. To handle this, first of all keep snacks in your desk and munch on them throughout the day as having an empty stomach can make nausea worse. Crackers and other bland foods help when you feel nauseated. Ginger has been proven to help with nausea and vomiting. It would help to keep a change of clothing, wet wipes and mouthwash with you in case of accidental vomiting.
“Back pain: Several factors associated with pregnancy can cause back pain. Postural changes, weight gain, hormonal changes can contribute to back pain. Also, emotional stress can cause tension in the back muscles. While at work, the pain can be alleviated by improving your posture especially while sitting. Slouching strains the spine, so when sitting at a desk, you can place a rolled-up towel behind your back for support, keep your feet elevated on a stack of books or stool and sit up straight, with your shoulders back. As much as women like to look stylish, high-heeled shoes should be given up for the time being.”
Safety precautions for pregnant women in the workplace
Exposure to reproductive hazards in the workplace is an increasing health concern as some hazards can affect pregnancy at the very early stage or even before conception. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reproductive hazards are substances or agents that may affect the reproductive health of women or men or the ability of couples to have healthy children. These hazards may cause problems such as infertility, miscarriage, birth defects and developmental disorders in children.
Mr Anthony Udechukwu, a health and safety professional said, pregnant employees need to be careful of the following activities while at work:
Lifting or carrying heavy loads
Standing or sitting for long periods
Exposure to toxic chemical substances including mercury, anti-cancer drugs, carbon monoxide and substances which cause cancer
Exposure to biological agents including viruses, bacteria etc.
long working hours
Ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation
Heavy vibrations, such as from large machines
Extreme temperatures —cold and heat
With your boss, decide if you need to take special precautions or modify your work duties during your pregnancy.
Get the best for you and your pregnancy while at work
Experts recommend the following to help the pregnant employee through the process:
- Take breaks. If you’ve been standing, put your feet up or walk around. Moving the muscles helps push fluid out of the feet and legs and back up to the heart to be re-circulated.
- Keep moving. Stand up and walk around every two hours. This will relieve swelling in your feet and ankles, and it should keep you more comfortable. While you’re up, do a few stretching exercises to protect your back.
- Dress comfortably. Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing. You might also try wearing maternity tights or support hose to prevent or ease swelling and varicose veins.
- Drink a lot of water. Keep a tall glass at your desk or work area and refill it often. This will also give you a chance to take a break and walk to the bathroom.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat regular meals and snacks, which can prevent morning sickness and drops in blood sugar. Choose balanced and nutritious lunches whenever you can. Add fibre to your diet to ease constipation.
- Be mindful of repetitive strain injuries. Pregnant women are at a greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome because fluid retention can increase pressure inside the carpal tunnel of the wrist and irritate the median nerve. Try to limit repetitive tasks, and make your workstation as comfortable as possible.
- Request workplace modifications. If your workstation is starting to cause you pain, ask for an ergonomic evaluation. Don’t hesitate to ask for wrist guards, splints, or other equipment that can prevent repetitive strain injuries.
- Reduce stress. If you can’t eliminate a stress factor in your workplace, try to find ways to manage it, such as stretching, doing deep-breathing exercises, or simply taking a short walk.
- Rest when you can. The more strenuous your job is, the more you should scale back your physical activity outside of work.
- Take time off if needed. If you find yourself feeling extremely fatigued, take an occasional sick day to rest or use an hour or two of vacation time here and there to shorten your workdays. If you’re so tired that you just can’t focus at work, find a private spot or go out to your car and use 15 minutes of your lunch break to take a quick nap.
- Don’t overdo it. Refuse offers of overtime, especially if you’re exhausted or if your job requires physical activity.
- Accept help. If your co-workers want to baby you a little – and you don’t mind – let them. Consider yourself lucky to be in a supportive workplace. This is a special time in your life, and it would be a shame to have to pretend that nothing has changed every day when you’re at work.