Nancy Hall is the author of the new book "Balancing Pregnancy and Work," which addresses everything woman needs to know to get through those nine months while staying in the workplace.
"Planning is everything," Hall tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler, "especially if you have a very high-level job, a complicated job, or a job where you deal with a lot of people. The more you can plan ahead, the smoother a family leave you'll have, the easier the getaway will be and the easier to come back."
For more than 10 years, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has offered protection for women who go on maternity leave and come back.
Hall explains some of the guidelines: "People having families get 12 weeks unpaid leave. That's the thing most people don't realize. That's the shocker. That's where we differ from most of the other countries in the world, that we do have the time off. Most women only end up taking about 10 and-a-half weeks because you not only have a new baby - you have a new expense. You can't afford to stay out that long."
This also applies to adoptive parents, and people bringing home a foster child.
When breaking the news to your boss, Hall advises women to make an appointment and let him or her know directly.
"This is not something you want your employers to pick up at the water cooler," she says and adds, "It's not something you want to talk about on the fly: 'Hey, by the way, I'm having a baby and leaving in a couple of months and leaving you in a lurch.' You want to sit down, look at your own calendar ahead of time and the workplace calendar and go in to say, 'My leave will probably begin in November. I realize the trade show is coming up. I'm already working on that with my staff.' It's more professional. It keeps you in a loop and makes your supervisor feel like you'll continue to treat him professionally."
A good way to be prepared before you break the news to your boss is to find another woman who has already done so and find out what you can expect. Hall says, "You can find out if there's something that's going to trigger a problem and be prepared when you go in to talk."
Another thing she advises: Be happy about it while telling the news. She says, "You shouldn't have to tell pregnant women to be happy, but we're trying to be professional. One gal I talked to said she went into the box and said, 'I'm having a baby and I've got this covered and this covered.' And he said, 'Congratulations,' right? She had been so professional, she forgot to be happy. And never apologize. You're having a baby. It's not a crime."
And, of course, Hall says to continue to be a good employee. She says, "The whole FMLA works better when people compromise. You want to do what's right for you, but also think about what's right for your employer and the workplace."
Read an excerpt from "Balancing Pregnancy and Work."
Susannah is a 27-year-old social worker for the state of North Carolina who has just begun to think seriously about getting pregnant for the first time. While she and her husband Jack, a freelance sports writer, have often talked about starting a family, those discussions always had a kind of dreamlike quality. But now Susannah finds herself thinking about the very practical issues of having a baby: How motherhood will affect her career. How much time she'll be able to take off from work. Money is tight already, and taking an unpaid maternity leave could make matters worse. Also, she worries about leaving her clients for very long. And she wonders if Jack, who works mainly from home, will be able to handle baby care and writing, or if they'll need to find affordable child care? Maybe it would be more practical to wait another year or two, but when she holds her girlfriend's 3-month-old daughter and gazes at the infant's wide eyes and tiny nose, inhaling her milky, powdery baby scent, all Susannah can think about is getting pregnant as soon as possible.
Thirty-four-year-old Arline, an airline ticket agent, and her 40-year-old husband Dell, a building contractor, have been trying to conceive for about 8 months. They're frustrated that they haven't had any success yet, but Arline's doctor is encouraging. She tells them that 8 months isn't long at all, and urges them to relax, enjoy their attempts at baby-making, and use the time to make plans for balancing parenting and working once Arline does get pregnant.
Kim, a 32-year-old hospice nurse, is enjoying the early days of her pregnancy. Only her boyfriend, her mother, and her closest friend know that she's pregnant, and she doesn't plan to tell her boss for several more months. Although she feels a bit guilty for not telling, and sometimes feels as if she's bursting to tell her friends at work, she knows that this time of having the sweet secret all to herself will never come again, and she wants to savor every minute. She loves this time of treasuring the mysterious life within her, of wondering what sort of mother she'll be. Sometimes she wonders how she'll be able to care for the baby and her patients as well, but then she realizes she still has months before she has to arrive at an arrangement that works for everyone.
Since you're reading this book, you're probably at a stage similar to Susannah, Arline, or Kim. Your dream baby may still be at the "gleam in your eye" stage, blessed with every possibility. Or you may be actively trying to conceive, already thinking of yourself as a mother-to-be. Or you may be pregnant already. If so, congratulations!
Just as no two pregnancies are alike, no two women, or couples, think about their growing family in the same way. Maybe you've planned for this baby ever since you were a little girl cradling your dolls, and you've been secretly reading pregnancy and baby care books for years. Maybe you never gave motherhood much thought, or had mixed feelings about the impact parenthood would have on your life. Maybe your pregnancy came as a surprise, and you are still trying to sort out your own feelings about the changes to come. Perhaps it's your first pregnancy, and much of what lies ahead seems mysterious and a little scary. Or it's your fifth, and you wonder whether your income and sanity will stretch along with your heart to accommodate another addition to your family. Or maybe you're awaiting the call that will tell you the baby you've longed to adopt is on the way, and it's time to make last-minute arrangements at home and at work.
If you're reading this book, chances are you have a job beyond mothering. You may work for yourself or someone else, in or out of your home, or you may be searching for a job. As a working woman and a mother-to-be, you are not alone. Nearly two-thirds of women in the United States with a child under age one are in the paid labor force. Reading this book is just as important as eating right and taking care of yourself during your pregnancy. The latter two protect you and your baby; this book will help protect your job and career.
Getting a Head Start on Pregnancy
If you're not pregnant yet, and you're reading this book because you're super organized, good for you. There are things you can do during this period (besides the obvious baby-making stuff—you're on your own there) to lay the groundwork for both a healthy pregnancy and a smooth transition from work to maternity leave and back to your job again.
Hopefully, by now, you've already seen your doctor and begun a pre-pregnancy program. This should include the following steps.
Build a healthful diet. Now is the time to curb any junk food habits and build a diet based on fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lean meats, and whole grains. Talk with your health care provider about which kinds of fish are safe for you; many contain unhealthy levels of mercury. If you're a vegetarian or have other dietary sensitivities or restrictions (lactose intolerance, for example), your doctor or midwife can help you to identify alternative healthy sources of protein or calcium.
Pop a prenatal vitamin. You'll need a prescription from your health care provider for this vitamin, but it's important. Numerous studies find that the folic acid in these vitamins (essential for cell reproduction and growth and also found in leafy vegetables, grains, breads, cereals, and liver, where it is known as folate) can help to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. Even though you may be eating a healthy diet, the additional nutritional insurance can't hurt. And the extra calcium in the prenatal vitamin can contribute to healthy bones—yours and the baby's!
Quit smoking. You probably already know how bad smoking is for you, but you should also be aware of the potential dangers should you become pregnant. Smoking increases your risk of having a tubal (ectopic) pregnancy, of miscarriage, and of premature delivery. Infants born to smokers are more likely to be of low birth weight, to have respiratory problems, and to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Further, recent studies show that the effects of smoking during pregnancy may extend well into your child's life: Children born to women who smoke are more likely to be colicky as infants, and to have behavior problems as toddlers.
Trying to conceive? Then there are even more reasons to quit: Smoking can impair fertility by causing a decrease in estrogen. Smoking has also been linked to premature degeneration of the ovaries and depletion of healthy egg cells.
Limiting your exposure to second-hand smoke is important as well. Second-hand smoke is associated with the same types of health risks as if you were the smoker—both for you, and when you get pregnant, for your baby.
Visit your doctor for a complete checkup. This should include a Pap test and gynecological exam, family medical history, and a screen for sexually transmitted diseases. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Blood tests should include a test for the presence of rubella antibodies (indicating that you've had or been inoculated against German measles, which can cause serious birth defects if you contract it during pregnancy), and a determination of whether you and your partner are Rh compatible (if not, you and your baby could have blood incompatibilities that could cause serious health complications for both of you, as well as for later babies).
Get a complete dental exam and teeth cleaning. By doing so, you'll avoid the need for dental x-rays during your pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy also make you more prone to gingivitis and periodontal disease, so starting with a clean slate—and clean teeth and gums—is a good idea.
Become familiar with your own menstrual cycle. If you're uncertain about how regular you are, or if your periods tend to arrive somewhat haphazardly, start charting their arrival on a calendar. This can help you to identify your most fertile times, and may serve as a clue for your health care provider in the event you have difficulty becoming pregnant (and help you pinpoint the date when you do become pregnant).
A Healthy Beginning
Since you're reading this book, chances are you're pregnant. If so, you've probably already seen your health care provider. It's important to call your obstetrician or midwife as soon as you know you're pregnant so the two of you can ensure you and your baby begin on the healthiest path possible. As long as you are basically healthy and not experiencing bleeding, spotting, or other problems, you'll likely be asked to come in for your first prenatal exam sometime between your 8th and 12th week of pregnancy.
Getting good care early on is important, because you want to make sure you start on a good prenatal vitamin (if you aren't already taking one), which is essential for both your and your baby's health. It's also important that the person who will be providing your health care during your pregnancy—and possibly delivering your baby—gets an overall picture of you and your health.
During that first visit, expect to describe your family history and receive a complete physical examination. This visit usually covers not just the physiological aspects of your health—weight, blood pressure, medical history—but also discussions of your lifestyle: demands of your job, nutritional habits, whether you drink, smoke, or use any recreational drugs, whether you exercise, and any potential hazards to which you could be exposed—as well as the health and general family history of the baby's father.
You'll also want to talk with your health care provider about prenatal tests that might be required for you and your child. Which—if any—prenatal screening or assessment tools you want to use during your pregnancy is a matter for you, your partner, and your healthcare provider to decide. Many factors, including your age, reproductive history, family history, and ethnicity, are taken into consideration when determining whether a certain test is right for you. Think of these tests as tools to help you control—or at least be aware of—the many elements that will characterize your pregnancy.
These days, home pregnancy tests are so accurate that most can tell you if you're pregnant within a day or so of a missed period. Of course, once you get the confirmation, one of your first questions will likely be: "When will my baby be born?" Knowing your due date helps you begin planning for parental leave, and can provide a sense of the big picture when it comes to work-related issues and events. For instance, it will help you know if you'll be able to stay on the job long enough to speak at the conference for which your paper has already been accepted. If you'll be too far along to fly to the trade show you've been organizing. If you'll be returning to work during your company's busiest season, or if you can adjust your plans to avoid it or to get back to your desk in time to help out.
We talk about the 9 months of pregnancy, but health professionals think of a full-term pregnancy in terms of weeks or days. Human babies gestate for approximately 40 weeks, or 280 days. And even if you're sure you conceived this baby exactly midway through your cycle, on the 14th day of the 28-day calendar on which menstruation typically operates, your health care provider measures it somewhat differently. To calculate your due date—or, in the quaint but slightly forbidding terms of a previous generation, your "estimated date of confinement," or EDC—the way your doctor does, get out your calendar. Figure out the first day of your last normal period and add 280 days. Presto! You have a date on which you could be giving birthday parties for many, many years.
If doing the math seems like too much trouble, figure out the first date of your last period and try one of the following online pregnancy calculators:
Of course, a baby considered to be full term rarely arrives smack on the 280th day of his or her gestation. On average, a full-term baby is one born at any time within a 5-week window starting 3 weeks prior to the due date (37 weeks) and ending 2 weeks after the due date (42 weeks). Your menstrual history provides some clue as to where your delivery might fall within this range. If your periods arrive every 28 days like clockwork, you're likely to deliver near your estimated due date. Women with shorter cycles tend
to deliver slightly earlier, while women with longer cycles usually have slightly longer pregnancies. In general, though, there are no guarantees.
Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Hall. Excerpted with permission from Rodale.