Pregnancy and Maternity

There were nearly 850,000 conceptions in the UK in 2017, many of whom will be in work and choose to work throughout their pregnancy. Pregnant women are legally entitled to maternity leave and fathers of newborn babies entitled to paternity leave once the baby is born and time off to attend two antenatal appointments. Pregnancy affects women in different ways and depending on how risky the pregnancy is, the mother and baby will require different levels of monitoring by health professionals.

What are the signs of pregnancy?

Early signs which might allude to a woman being pregnant include:

  • Missing a period if the woman’s menstrual cycle is normally regular
  • Nausea, particularly in the morning (known as morning sickness)
  • Mood swings, caused by hormonal changes
  • Fatigue
  • Sore breasts
  • Changes in bladder or bowel movements
  • Strange cravings and heightened sensitivity to smells

Symptoms in later pregnancy as the baby grows, include:

  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Back and leg pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty moving around and balancing

How is pregnancy monitored and managed?

A pregnant woman will have routine scans and checks to make sure the baby is developing correctly. These include urine, blood pressure and blood tests to screen for developmental issues in the baby, as well as to make sure the mother is well during pregnancy. 

Some women develop gestational conditions which they did not have before pregnancy, such as diabetes. Women who are overweight and from certain ethnic backgrounds are more at risk of this condition.

Ultrasound scans are used to monitor the baby’s growth. The first of these takes place 12 weeks after conception.

Medication and treatment is available to help manage the symptoms of pregnancy, such as anti-sickness medication. It is important to seek medical advice before taking medication during pregnancy, as certain drugs can affect the unborn baby.

There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for an employee who is pregnant:

An employee may not disclose their pregnancy upfront and may prefer to wait until they look obviously pregnant before saying anything to an employer.

If an employer suspects that their employee has a reason for reduced performance at work, they can broach the subject sensitively by asking whether they require any adjustments. The employee may then choose to disclose their pregnancy. A risk assessment will then be necessary to assess the safety of certain tasks for the pregnant employee and their unborn baby.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees who are pregnant?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with pregnancy if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee is pregnant. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of pregnancy:

  • Working from home or flexible hours: for example, if the employee is struggling with morning sickness and nausea. Also to enable the employee to attend appointments and antenatal classes recommended by a doctor or midwife.
  • Additional breaks if the employee is particularly tired, which is common during pregnancy.
  • Adjustments to duties depending on the employee’s mobility and the safety of their tasks. For example, work with chemicals and x-rays is unsuitable for someone who is pregnant and they should be given alternative tasks or suspended on full pay until they can return to work safely, post-pregnancy.
  • Regular communication with the employee so that they feel comfortable at work and do not feel like they are being disregarded as a result of their pregnancy, or being deprived of certain opportunities. Also to agree the terms of their contract and maternity leave once the baby is born.

Pregnancy and maternity Signposting – charity working to tackle the inequality that pregnant women may be subject to, as well as to improve the wellbeing of women and their families, both ante and post-natal (020 7253 2288). – organisation providing information and support to women throughout pregnancy, including advice on how to implement lifestyle changes which could aid conception and support following a miscarriage or stillbirth (020 7398 3400). – organisation supporting women throughout their pregnancy and funding the purchase of specialist equipment for maternity care, as well as training for medical professionals (01676 534671). – organisation focused on helping women and their families through the first 1000 days of pregnancy and life with a new baby, including sharing information, creating and maintaining networks of parents and helping shape public policy (0300 330 0700).

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