First of all congratulations! If this is your first baby, we are especially excited for you – and welcome you to the world of the mother who works!
According to scientists, December is the month where couples generally have more sex in the lead-up to Christmas, so it’s no surprise (to us, at least!) that you are pregnnt right now.
The following guide will walk you through some important things to consider and remember during your pregnancy, and an idea of what to expect or request at work during your pregnancy.
What to do in your first trimester
First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! This is the beginning of a new direction in your life – and if this is not your first baby you are expecting, by buying this ebook, you will be more prepared than before, which means that everything should go swimmingly!
In the first trimester of pregnancy your body also undergoes major changes. These changes often cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, tiredness, breast tenderness and frequent urination. Every woman has a different experience, however, so while some may experience increased energy levels during this period, other mums-to-be may feel very tired and emotional.
The first trimester is the most crucial to your baby’s development. During this period, your baby’s body structure and organ systems develop.
Most mums-to-be prefer to wait for the 12th-week grace period before telling anyone they are pregnant, as most miscarriages and birth defects occur during this trimester. This is perfectly normal and acceptable, and unless there are special needs during your pregnancy, you won’t be taking that much time of for GP or antenatal visits anyway. What might trigger some days off sick from work is feeling really rough because of the surge of hormones as your baby grows from a few cells into the beating heartbeat you’ll see in your first scan!
Second trimester: time to tell your boss you’re pregnant
The second trimester of pregnancy is often called the “honeymoon period” because many of the unpleasant effects of early pregnancy have ended. In the second trimester, you’re likely to experience less nausea, better sleep patterns and increased energy levels.
However, during this period you may experience a whole new set of symptoms and feelings, such as back pain, abdominal pain, leg cramps, constipation and heartburn. You will probably hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time at around 12 weeks. And, somewhere between weeks 16 and 20, you may feel your baby’s first fluttering movements.
By law, you need to have given your employer written notification of your pregnancy by the end of the 15th week before your baby is born (i.e. when you are about 25 weeks pregnant), so if you haven’t told your employer by now, time is running out.
Once you have told your employer, you are covered against sex discrimination because of your pregnancy and your employer will need to conduct a health and safety assessment of your work area, to make sure that there are no hazards to you and your baby during your pregnancy (see next chapter).
This trimester, you will also have an ultrasound scan. You will also have regular appointments with your midwife or doctor to make sure that you and your baby are doing well. By law, you are entitled attend your antenatal appointments, but your employer has the right to refuse this if you cannot supply evidence of this.
At around 20 weeks you should get your MATB1 form, which is the evidence that you are pregnant. You should also have filled in a form to get a maternity certificate, which entitles you to things like free prescriptions and free dental care.
What will the risk assessment my employer conducts look at?
Depending on your health and the stage you’re at in your pregnancy, you could be exposed to different physical, biological and chemical agents, working conditions and processes.
Your employer is legally responsible for protecting your health and safety while you’re pregnant, and if they do not, it is automatically considered to be sex discrimination. This is another reason why it’s important to tell your employer that you’re pregnant.
Your specific risk assessment itself will look at:
• Standing or sitting for long periods
• Workstations and posture
• Lifting or carrying of heavy loads
• Long working hours
• Work-related stress – if the risk assessment identifies stress as a possible risk, you employer should remove this risk, where possible. One example of doing this is to reduce working hours so that you are not travelling to and from work during rush hour.
• Exposure to lead
• Exposure to radioactive material
• Exposure to infectious diseases
• Threat of violence in the workplace
• Excessively noisy workplaces
This specific risk assessment should be regularly monitored to look at possible risks at different stages of your pregnancy. If you have been given any advice from your doctor or midwife, you need to let your employer know this during your specific risk assessment so that your employer can adjust your working conditions accordingly.
Third trimester: preparing to leave work…and thinking about your comeback!
You have now reached your final stretch of pregnancy and are probably very excited and anxious about the birth of your baby. I know that during this trimester during both my pregnancies, I had very mixed feelings about work – wanting to work until the very end of my pregnancy one day, then wishing I could just throw in the towel to ease the pain from my swollen ankles the next.
Some of the physical symptoms you may experience in this last phase of your pregnancy include shortness of breath, haemorrhoids, urinary incontinence, varicose veins and sleeping problems. Many of these symptoms arise from the increase in the size of your uterus, which expands from approximately two ounces before pregnancy to 2.5 pounds at the time of birth of your baby.
Work wise, you will probably be preparing for your maternity leave, and may have decided whether you will be returning to work or not. Either way, it’s important to think about childcare during this time, as your circumstances may change during your maternity leave, and you don’t want to be left without any options.
If you will be returning to work, have you thought about whether you will be working full or part time? If you think you want to apply for flexible working, it might be worth sorting this out before you go on maternity leave, so that you come back to work with everything in place.
How much maternity leave am I entitled to?
In 2008/09 the law changed, increasing how much maternity leave all mums are entitled to: a whole year off. But it doesn’t mean that you will get paid for a whole year – you only get paid for 39 weeks) but your job, by law, if you are an employee has to be kept open for your return.
How much can I expect to be paid during my maternity leave?
By law, you are entitled to Statutory maternity pay from your employer if you have worked for them for at least six months before you fell pregnant, and provided you are an actual employee. If you are not entitled to payment from your employer (this is usually the case if you were pregnant before you started working for them), you will get Maternity Allowance from the Department of Work and Pensions.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid at 90% of your earnings for the first six weeks followed by a flat rate, which is increased by a few pounds every tax year. In 2009/10 the flat rate is £123.06, but not everyone gets this much.
Maternity Allowance is calculated using a calculation period and your earning during that period. So, if you haven’t worked a lot during the year leading up to your pregnancy, you may find that you get about £20 less than the flat rate mentioned before because you may have earned below the Lower Earning Limit. Instead, you’ll get 90% £123.06) as the flat rate.
Some employers give employees more money for their maternity leave (what they call the benefits package) – this is a bonus, but legally your employer only has to pay you the statutory minimum.
Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for the first 39 weeks of maternity leave, so the flat rate mentioned above will be payable for 33 weeks unless your employer offers something better than this.
What to do before you go on maternity leave
Spending time with your child in her earliest days are priceless. But maternity leave does not last forever, and a lot of mums choose to come back for various reasons.
It’s a good idea to plan as far ahead as you can, and have as clear an idea of when you want or need (as the case may be) to return to work. You need to let your employer know in writing 28 days before the date you will return to work – and you must let them know 28 days before your maternity leave ends if you will not be returning. These are legal requirements to protect both you and your employer, but obviously the more you know about what you want to do the easier it is all round.
Before you go on maternity leave, I would suggest that you think about your working hours if you intend to change them so you can spend more time with your baby while you work. If you have this decided by your third trimester, I would recommend that you apply for flexible in your third trimester so that you can have everything sorted out for your return. Imagine how much more stressful it will be coming back to work full time, when you really want to reduce your hours to day three days a week – not to mention forking out for childcare and having the uncertainty hanging over your head at the same time.
If you apply for flexible working (read my How to Apply for Flexible Working ebook) during your third trimester, you can go through the entire process and have it all decided before you go on maternity leave – then you only need to let your employer know when you are coming back to work 28 days before you go on leave.
Now’s a good time to start thinking about the childcare options available to you. Speak to friends and family members who have children and see what options are best for you. There is a whole range of childcare options out there – from nannies to private nurseries and au pairs (read my The Working Parent’s Stress-Free Guide to Finding Good Childcare ebook for more options, and to find out how they can work for you).
It may seem early to you if this is your first child, but a lot of the good childcare options have long waiting lists, and if you have your heart set on a particular nursery or childminder for instance, the best way to avoid disappointment is to make sure you register your interest early and get your name down on the waiting list.