Having a full-time job while expecting isn’t easy but nowadays most doctors recommend it for a smooth and healthy pregnancy
Yes or no?
Gone are the days when women would give up their jobs upon the first signs of pregnancy. “This is a normal condition and not an illness,” explains Dr Nighat Shah, a gyneacologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in Karachi. “Contrary to popular belief, working doesn’t cause abortions. Regardless of whether you work as a teacher, doctor, journalist or anything else, it is completely safe to continue working up until the last trimester. In fact, women from rural areas perform field work and yet, deliver normal and healthy children!”
There is ample scientific evidence that retaining a job actually boosts the health of the mother and baby. This comes as a relief to many career-oriented women like 32-year-old Hina Mir, a company secretary and head of corporate affairs at the Pak Oman Investment Company. “I went to work until four days before my delivery and fortunately suffered no complications,” says Hina who gave birth to a baby boy just two months ago. “I am glad I continued working because it helped me focus and kept my mind occupied.”
According to Dr Asifa Ghazi, head of gyneacology and obstetrics at the Civil Hospital in Karachi, pregnancy should never be used as an excuse for women to give up on their ambitions. “Medically speaking, if a woman has been working prior to conceiving, her body has already acclamitised to the physical exertion,” explains Dr Asifa. “Therefore, there should not be any reason for an expecting mother to resign, unless and until a complication arises. “ In our part of the world, many women are under the misconception that the physical and emotional stress of deadlines, meetings and daily commutes etc, can not only take their toll on the health of the mother and baby but also, in extreme cases, lead to a miscarriage. “In Pakistan, even climbing up or down the stairs is avoided during pregnancy,” says Dr Nighat. “The reasoning behind this is that if a pregnant woman uses the stairs too much, she might lose her balance and get injured. Granted, this is a possibility but there are various other causes of a miscarriage and being employed is almost never one of them.”
Of course, the decision and ability to maintain full-time employment is subjective and contingent upon the nature of the pregnancy itself. After all, not every woman has a smooth sailing journey through these nine months. Hina, for example, admits that she has been extremely lucky to have given birth without any nausea, acidity, pains or anxiety. “During the very last stage of my pregnancy, my feet swelled up and it became difficult for me to sleep due to a breathing problem,” she shares. “Other than that, I got up early every morning and even had to travel for work during my time, until 10 days prior to delivery. Personally, I think having something to do really supports a mother-to-be mentally.” On the other end of the spectrum is 31-year-old journalist Mifrah Haq who had to resign right at the start of her second pregnancy, despite having worked throughout her first one. “In my experience, the first and third trimesters were the toughest,” says Mifrah. “In the first, I suffered from nausea and during the third, my legs started swelling up, making me feel fatigued. Therefore, I couldn’t sit for too long.” She also experienced some bleeding because of which she had to resign.
Dr Asifa sheds light on Mifrah’s predicament by suggesting that sometimes, if a woman develops complications in her first trimester, she is advised bed rest. This leaves her with little choice but to quit her job, at least for the initial month or two. “There is no clinical condition which warrants complete rest but if a patient is bleeding in the first three months, she need not resign permanently,” she suggests. “If she is prescribed rest then it is never for the entire period but only for that month or so.”
Both Hina and Mifrah are of the opinion that managing a full-time job with a home, family and a baby on the way can be made much easier provided that the woman has a good rapport with her boss. “Every job involves some stress but my boss made it easy for me,” recalls Hina. “If the boss is understanding, anyone can continue working while pregnant.” Luckily, her working environment was very accommodating and her senior position allowed Hina to delegate her work as well. As for Mifrah, there were days in her first pregnancy when she felt too sick to work and had to leave early. “Nine months is a very long time to be idle so I thought it was better to keep working,” she says. “There were times when I had to force myself to work just to stay busy but it takes one’s mind off their delicate physical condition. It is difficult to manage but definitely not impossible.”
Ishrat Ansari works on the Karachi desk at The Express Tribune.
Striking a balance
For women who leave their jobs to focus on their health during pregnancy, Dr Nighat has one thing to say. “Resting 24 hours a day will not help you bear a healthy child. This approach is completely wrong.” According to her, continuous employment and an active lifestyle actually normalises the blood flow of the foetus so long as the mother is not over-exerting herself. In fact, research conducted by Janet DiPietro, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, showed that moderate stress in the mother actually accelerates the development of foetal nervous system. Therefore, it is important for expecting working mothers to eat well, exercise daily and rest for at least one hour during the day.
According to Saima Rasheed, a consultant dietician at the National Medical Centre, maintaining the right diet is essential for a sound pregnancy. Not only is this important for the growth of the baby, but a balance diet can help counter morning sickness and other pregnancy-related problems as well. For instance, Saima recommends light breakfasts to tame nausea. “Women should avoid eating bread, biscuits or chappatis,” she suggests. “Instead, eat an omelette or kebab with a small piece of bread. Orange juice is particularly good for nausea as well.” Dr Moti Khan, a senior dietician at AKUH explains, “Pregnant women should increase fluid and fibre intake and keep away from excess salt and rice. In fact, rice shouldn’t be eaten more than twice a week. Lentils, fruits and vegetables should be given priority, as well as eggs.” Also, fizzy drinks must be replaced my nutritious juices, water and lassi to maintain hydration.
Of course, working off what one eats is just as crucial. Dr Moti recommends a 10 minute to 15 minute walk before breakfast and dinner, especially for expecting mothers with high blood pressure. A proper diet and regular exercise regime will help keep the pregnancy cycle smooth, thereby ensuring one’s ability to retain a full-time job.
Maternity leaves around the world
Planning to move abroad and starting a family there? Worried about the extra cost of raising a child? Read on to find out what different countries offer to help their expecting mothers.
The maternity and postpartum benefits that Germany offers include a midwife for routine check-ups on the baby as soon as the mother and the baby come home. An additional allowance for child rearing, known as Kindergeld, is provided for a year following the birth. In fact, Kindergeld also covers the cost of a parent staying home with a child instead of returning to work. If the mother decides to re-join work soon after delivery, she is protected by Mutterschutz, a law that allows pregnant women to start their maternity leave six weeks before the delivery date and forbids them from returning to work until eight weeks postpartum. Mutterschutz also forbids women to work extra shifts and entitles them to take a 30 minute break apart from lunch time for breastfeeding.
In Pakistan, there are different acts that provide maternity benefits. However, according to each, a mother is entitled to take 12 weeks paid leave, six weeks before delivery and six postpartum. The pay would be equal to her gross weekly salary as per contract. The mother will, however, only be eligible for the leaves if she has served at least six months at her workplace before delivery.
There is no maternity leave in Australia but instead a parental leave that either of the parents can utilise. These government paid leaves can be taken up to 18 weeks and the job is protected for about a year. Apart from this, other free benefits include baby wellness programmes, depression checks and new parents’ support groups. Soon after birth, nurses at government-sponsored Early Childhood Parenting Centres check the baby’s weight and offer breastfeeding and sleeping assistance.
United States of America
Surprisingly, the US provides its employees with no real benefits. Only about 13% of the private sector offers designated paid family leaves. Just about 60% of all workers are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows companies with more than 50 employees to take a job-protected (but not paid) leave of up to 12 weeks. However, to qualify one must have worked with the employer for a year and delivered more than 1,250 hours of employment. Despite this, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have added paid family leave insurance programmes to their State Disability Insurance which allows contributing employees to receive a portion of their wages for up to six weeks after the birth of a child.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, May 24th, 2015.