Three simple rules to navigate pregnancy at work

Shen-with-kids-closeupEtiquettes on Pregnancies at Work

If you haven’t already, you will probably come in close contact with a pregnant woman in the near future. She might be your partner, co-worker or employee. Perhaps she might be you. As someone who has been through the “wringer”, I can say that the etiquette around pregnancy in the work place is still very vague and not at all well known. I have both witnessed and endured faux pas more frequently than I’d care to admit.

Given the amount of sensitivity this issue deserves, and the potential legal and social repercussions that can arise, I thought it’d be helpful to share the top three things you should know:

1. Never ask

First, never ask (unless you think it’s your baby), however obvious it might seem to you. Women have different body types, carry babies differently and recover differently. There are also a number of ailments that can cause stomach swelling that is not pregnancy related at all. There is nothing worse than being asked “when is the baby due?” when in fact the baby is already six months old.Now, if you really must ask, here is the best inquiry that I have ever heard: When I came to campus for my admissions interview, I was already 8 months pregnant and looked like Winnie the Pooh in a suit. As I approached the registration table to sign in, Dee, our dear Dean of Admissions, pulled me aside and asked “Is it ok that I noticed you’re pregnant?” That was the most kind, gentle and honest question that I had ever gotten about my belly size and I was forever grateful for the sensitivity that she showed.A word for the future manager… if you don’t already know this, most miscarriages occur in the first three months (or first trimester) of a pregnancy. So if someone (male or female) on your team is expecting a child, they are likely to wait until the baby is past the first trimester before sharing the news, just in case. This is also the time period when morning-sickness (aka, nausea) tends to be the strongest. If the work environment is one where alcohol, sushi, smoke or other pregnancy-unfriendly items float around, she will likely feel uncomfortable and will discretely take steps to avoid them. Beyond fostering an environment that’s flexible and inclusive, the manager can also re-enforce his commitment to be supportive and keep personal issues confidential. In all cases, when someone tells you they’re expecting a baby, jump up and down and be really happy for them!! =)

2. Ask permission before you share the news

Second, ask for permission before sharing the news with others. This one is crucial for co-workers and managers. Pregnancies, as much as they are celebrated events, are still private matters and bring much uncertainty. Sometimes the mother-to-be is already overwhelmed and the last thing they want is to field more questions from others, however well-meaning.

3. Not too much baby talk!

Lastly, talk a little bit about the baby, but not too much! Babies are amazing, but Moms are more amazing (I know, this is a bit of a self-promo 😉 ). I see people getting so worked up about the baby that they risk making the Mom feel neglected. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn’t mean that she stops caring about everything else. Furthermore, imagine this happening at the work place. Talking about the baby and pregnancy within the context of work transition planning is fine, but the rest of the time it can be very distracting. Use weather and traffic conditions for small talk, not pregnancies.If you’re the one who happens to be pregnant, it really helps to take the lead in letting people know where you stand and what your plans are, even if they might change. This means letting your manager know about the expected due date when you’re comfortable to share. It helps to have a draft timeline that includes when you plan to go on leave and return to work (if that’s what you want to do). Most of my past managers were comfortable with a transition plan in place and someone else trained up (or at least identified) about 3 months before due date. All my babies were late arrivals and my pregnancies were relatively uneventful, so I pretty much stayed all the way until due date making myself useful. However, other coworkers took leave as far as 1 month before their due date. Just follow your doctor’s advice on what’s appropriate… and rejoice!!

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