How to find middle ground between extreme
work-related stress and self-care during pregnancy
Are you pregnant and always on the go?
Are you still working as much at your office or with your kids and never seem to sit down and catch a breath even though you are pregnant?
More than 2/3 of all pregnant women work, most of them in full-time jobs. 80 percent are still at their jobs the month they give birth.
Since women are most likely working during most of their pregnancy, reducing stress during this time should not be dismissed as an urban myth.
Research shows that a high level of stress in some pregnant women can lead to preterm birth, smaller babies, and potential problems later on.
In order to advance professionally, women sometimes have to prove their commitment to work regardless of being pregnant or having a family. Sometimes there is financial pressure, especially for single mothers, to continue to work until the last day.
You do not have to be a super woman.
Even when there is no external pressure at work, women sometimes try to live up to an unattainable standard of trying to be a Pregnant Super Woman who can work 12 hour days, be at her desk until her water breaks, and still have time to train for the marathon. Some women might also believe that they do not need any help from their colleagues, supervisors, or partners. With advancing pregnancy, swollen legs, backaches, and lack of sleep, work will become more burdensome than before, yet many women feel they need to keep on pushing themselves.
In some traditionally male professions such as law, medicine, and corporate jobs, the demands put on pregnant woman seem impossible to fulfill while still remaining in good health. Female lawyers and executives continue to work long hours all the way through the end of their pregnancy. When put on bed rest they may have to take their laptops in order to keep working.
If you are a working pregnant woman, you do not have to quit your job, you just need to find the right balance. In fact, employment during pregnancy is actually correlated to positive outcomes. Unemployed pregnant women are more likely to suffer from depression and have low birth weight babies.
How stress affects you depends on your personality style: whether you are energized or exhausted by keeping a fast pace and long working hours. It also depends on whether you feel a sense of control at work or at home, and on the emotional support you receive from your partner and family.
However, if you feel tense, worried or exhausted most of the time, here are some ideas on how to reduce work stress during pregnancy:
- Take a close look at your lifestyle and try to identify personal and work-related sources of stress. Look at your schedule, as well as your work and family commitments and see what is achievable and manageable for you. If you feel that your list is out of control, you may have to adjust your schedule.
- Accept that your body and your energy will change as you get closer to your due date. Even if you currently thrive in your overscheduled lifestyle, you may not be able to continue working as your pregnancy puts more physical demands on you. Prepare to cut back on what you are doing in the last trimester.
- Let go of control. You cannot control or predict how your body will respond to pregnancy or how you will feel. No matter how hard you are trying to fulfill your work obligations, you may fall short due to your changing body.
- Take good care of yourself: eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Take frequent short breaks rather than one long break. Keep moving after sitting at your desk for a while. If you are in a high-pressure job, you might consider taking Wednesdays and Saturdays off rather than a traditional weekend. This will create a mid-week break.
- Communicate with your boss and ask for an adjustment in your work load. Do not hesitate to ask your colleagues for help. Keep in mind that you know best what your needs are and how hard you should work. By making small adjustments in your work environment to fit your needs, you may be able to contribute more to your organization.
- Network with other working moms at your office or in an informal support group. Connecting with someone who has been there before can help you gain perspective and may also provide you with support and suggestions on how to manage your work situation.
- Keep communication open with your husband/partner. According to research, social support and nurturing by a woman’s husband or partner is linked to healthier infants.
Remember, you are pregnant for only 9 months, so take care of yourself until you get back to your old self. Even if you have to take a short break from work, you will most likely be able to get back to it easily.
If you are pregnant and burdened by work obligations and/or family responsibilities and would like help reducing stress and getting your life in control, please call me at (281)267-1742 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation, or email me at [email protected]
Dr. Irena Milentijevic is a licensed psychologist who specializes in helping mothers and those hoping to be mothers overcome stress, loss, and depression. Her offices are located in Houston and the Woodlands, Texas. Visit her website: www.DrIrena.com to get her free report, “Moms and Mom Wannabes: 10 Ways To Overcome Depression and Reclaim Your Sanity”.