You’re pregnant! Congratulations! It’s an exciting time, but thinking about how your new arrival will impact your career can be stressful.
As you navigate your work life during this time, you may wonder: When do I tell my boss? When can I share the news with my co-workers? How much time should I take off from work? Where will I pump my breast milk when I return from maternity leave? It’s a lot to think about! But ellie’s gotcha covered with a few tips to help you through the transition—both before and after your baby’s birth.
How to tell your boss about your pregnancy
Telling your boss about your pregnancy can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you have a lot of responsibilities at work or it’s a particularly busy time. But keep in mind that you’re not the first working woman to have a baby and you certainly won’t be the last. Though this may be a new experience for you, your employer likely has at least some experience coordinating maternity leaves.
Tell your boss first about your news before your co-workers.
We recommend you tell your boss first so she can hear the news directly from you and you can answer any questions she may have about your plans for returning to work.
Meet in person
It’s usually simpler to answer all questions at once in person rather than over email. As with any important conversation with your employer, we recommend you have it face-to-face. Tone, intentions, and details can get lost in email which can negatively impact your intended messaging.
Know your benefits and rights
You’ll feel more prepared if you know what you’re entitled to going into the meeting. If you don’t know your company’s policies for maternity leave, get your hands on a copy of your benefit materials or employee handbook ASAP. Read our blog article on Maternity Leave rights.
Have a plan.
Come to the meeting with suggestions about who might be able to take on some of your work during your leave, and what this arrangement might look like. Your boss will appreciate that you’re keeping the company and your team in mind as you make your plans.
Be brief and professional
You should be prepared to answer questions, but you don’t have to answer every question, nor should you volunteer information beyond what is relevant to your employer. Even if you’re on good terms with your boss, stick to the facts and keep the conversation professional.
When to announce your pregnancy at work
When to make a more general office announcement is really up to you. If you’re bursting with excitement and you’ve already spoken with your boss, it’s fine to share with your co-workers. Not ready to announce your pregnancy to everyone? No problem. Here are some ways to conceal your pregnancy until you’re ready to let your colleagues in on the big news.
Work attire, aka hiding the bump
Depending on your body shape, you can likely conceal your bump until well into your second trimester. Good camouflaging choices include loose-fitting blouses, shirts with scarves, jackets, vests, and capes or shawls. In general, layers help (which makes this strategy easier to pull off in the winter).
Morning sickness, aka hiding the blech
Plan ahead with what you’ll take to work to help with your morning sickness. Are there specific foods or drinks that help you? Stock them at your desk. We also recommend bringing a toothbrush and whatever make-up you need to touch up after an episode of morning sickness.
If your morning sickness doesn’t get better over time or is disrupting your day, consider asking your doctor for prescription anti-nausea meds. These can be a lifesaver for those with intense morning sickness. If your morning sickness is particularly bad, use some sick days, or talk to HR about working remotely from time to time. Know that morning sickness usually ends after the 12th week of pregnancy. Hang in there!
Happy hour, aka hiding the bacardi
If you need to attend a work event where alcohol is served, make sure you can order your own drink from the bar. If you’re holding a sparkling water or another non-alcoholic drink, most people are unlikely to notice that you’re not joining in on the booze-fest. If a co-worker does ask and you feel compelled to offer an excuse, you can simply say that you’re not feeling great or on a health kick.
Don’t feel compelled to go great lengths, but you can get creative if you’re really concerned about people finding out. One working mom who knew her co-workers might be suspect if she didn’t join in with a glass of wine called their go-to happy hour bar ahead of time and coordinated a grape juice filled wine glass. The bartender was passing her grape juice and her colleagues were none the wiser!
Planning for maternity leave
How long to stay home with your new baby is a very personal decision. Consider what’s best for you, your family, and your career. You may not know how you will feel about returning to work until after the baby arrives. That’s perfectly normal. If you’ve researched your company’s policies and spoken with your boss, you’ll have a good idea about what kind of flexibility your employer offers in terms of leave.
If you plan to go back to work, it’s a good idea to get your childcare plan in place as early as you can. Early planning will save you from the pressure of making these decisions during your maternity leave. Giving yourself time to make childcare arrangements you feel comfortable with will ease the transition when you do return to work.
No matter what, returning to work can be fraught with many emotions—sadness, guilt, excitement, and relief. These emotions all are normal. Download the ellie app and check in on the “working moms” topic where you can ask questions of other moms who’ve been there. It’s helpful knowing you’re not alone in this journey!
Returning from maternity leave
Pumping at work
Ideally, your work will provide a lactation room— a safe, clean, private space for you to use a breast pump at work.
We’ve all heard a horror story from a friend who had to get creative trying to find a space to pump at work. A friend of mine had to use a storage room without a lock to pump because her office didn’t have a designated space and she didn’t want everyone in the women’s bathroom to hear the loud pumping noise. Not the best situation and in most states, it’s not legal.
If you do not have your own private office, consider talking to your boss or human resources department about a lactation room before you return from leave. Sometimes employers are clueless, not ill intentioned. If there is not a room already designated for this, is there a space you could suggest? Even adding an interior lock to an otherwise less-than-ideal space can work in a pinch or while a more permanent solution is in the works.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve
Never feel bad for asking for better accommodations at work. If you need help educating your employer on why it’s not okay to pump in a bathroom and other things they should know about supporting breastfeeding moms at work, this is a great article to reference. These laws were implemented for a reason.
Don’t be apologetic or accept lower standards because you feel like you’re being demanding. An excellent example of standing up for your rights at work comes from a friend of mine. When she returned from work after having her baby, she asked where she could pump breastmilk that was clean and private and not a bathroom. When her employer admitted they didn’t have a space for her, she told them to let her know once they were ready for her to return to work, and she left. They quickly made arrangements to accommodate her. You have rights. Don’t be afraid to use them.
Go easy on yourself
Try to be patient with yourself on your return to work. You may feel both relieved to return to your pre-motherhood routine, and also profoundly sad to leave your baby during the day. It’s all normal. Give yourself time to adjust to the new normal. Communicate with your partner not only about baby logistics but also about your feelings about the many changes happening in your life together.
And remember, it’s totally possible to have a meaningful career and be a great mom. Which is not to say it isn’t a struggle at times—it definitely is! But many working women find that they ultimately thrive in both of these roles, and that both are an important part of their lives.
We know this can be a lot to digest—please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments below or through our parenting app (available on iOS and Android), where there is a whole topic on Working Moms. We find that everything is less daunting when you have your tribe behind you!