Jobs are required to offer some level of maternity leave to new mothers, but one thing they generally don’t offer is paid leave while pregnant. Pregnancy causes a huge array of changes to the body, many of which make it more uncomfortable to sit and work at an office job the same way you would when you’re not pregnant. So, how can you strive to make your work life more pleasant while pregnant? Here are our best tips.
Use a Comfortable Ergonomic Chair
Pregnancy changes your body, and that includes the composition of your abdomen. Growing an entirely new person puts a lot of stress on your musculoskeletal system, and that can lead to a lot of back pain because of muscles that aren’t used to handling the load.
One of the best things you can do is invest in an office chair that has a large number of possible adjustments.
Early in your pregnancy, you’ll need to make some minor adjustments. As time moves on and your due date comes closer, you’ll want to adjust in slightly different ways. All of this is aimed at helping to alleviate your back pain, neck strain, and muscle aches.
Adjust Your Chair for Maximum Comfort
Once you have an adjustable chair, how do you adjust it for maximum comfort and support?
- Push lumbar support forward so your shoulders can lay back in a relaxed and neutral position.
- Adjust seat height and depth so your feet can rest flat on the floor. Take off your shoes for the best comfort.
- Adjust the tilt of your chair’s back to keep your posture neutral. Your goal is a straight line from hips to shoulders to neck to ears.
Throughout your pregnancy, you will likely need to make minor adjustments to keep this posture.
You’ll also want to be wary of the temptation to slouch. Slouching feels a lot more comfortable initially, but it puts more stress on your back and can lead to worse back pain later.
Use a Box or Stool to Elevate Your Legs
Under most normal circumstances, you don’t want to have any sort of footrest or footstool in your office environment. However, during pregnancy, you may find your legs and feet swell up and can become quite painful. To help alleviate this, you should consider some kind of elevated position for your legs.
The best option is to elevate them above your waist, which usually means propping your feet up on your desk. This can be very difficult and inconvenient, not to mention poor etiquette in an office environment, so instead, consider lowering your chair temporarily. If you can lower your keyboard as well, and lean your chair back to about a 135-degree angle, you’ll have the best results.
Do Stretches to Keep Limber
We get it; the last thing you want to do while pregnant at work is exercise. However, some simple exercises and stretches can go a long way towards alleviating muscle aches and back pain.
It can also help minimize headaches and can help with leg swelling issues.
- Shoulder circles. While seated, roll your shoulders up, back, down, and forward, trying to make the biggest circle you can. This stretches shoulder and neck muscles and alleviates neck pain.
- Leg extensions. While seated in a normal position, lift one knee while keeping your leg bent. With the knee elevated, stretch your leg out forward. You should feel a stretch in your thigh. Slowly return and repeat with the other leg. Repeat this cycle 10 times.
- Pelvic tilts. While sitting normally, flex your pelvic muscles. Squeeze and sink into your tailbone, and hold for five seconds. Release and repeat ten times.
There are a variety of other pelvic exercises you can do, as well as a range of standard office chair exercises that can help with muscle aches and other problems in a more general sense. Just make sure to avoid anything that could injure you, so nothing too vigorous.
Dress in Layers
Pregnancy increases your body temperature, and you’ll also experience a variety of hot and cold flashes as various chemicals flood throughout your system. This means you’re more than likely going to be uncomfortable in whatever you dressed in, regardless of the season, the climate, or the office thermostat settings.
The best thing you can do in this situation is dress in layers. Make sure you have clothing on that you’re comfortable in when you’re cold, and that you can at least partially remove when your body decides it has had enough and it’s time to be hot now.
Make sure all layers are professional enough to survive scrutiny in an office environment and make sure to adhere to whatever dress codes are mandated in your company. You may consider talking to HR about an exemption if possible as well.
Keep Healthy Snacks Nearby
Cravings are a natural part of pregnancy, and you may be surprised by how much food you can pack in when you’re just snacking. You’re eating for two, after all. You’ll want to keep a variety of snacks on hand to sate your cravings.
The trick is to make sure you’re eating something that actually suits the craving you’re having, not just what you think sounds good. Consider learning about the difference between a biological craving and a psychological craving. More importantly, print out and pin up a chart like this one; one that tells you what nutrient you’re likely craving if you’re craving a given kind of food. For example, if you’re craving chocolate, it could be that your body is actually searching for magnesium, which you can get from nuts, seeds, dates, beans, and legumes instead.
Keeping a handful of a few easy snacks on hand is a good way to make sure you’re not reaching, stretching, or digging around in drawers or bags for something, interrupting both your work and your comfort.
Arrange Your Work Environment for Easy Reach
In addition to snacks, you may want to rearrange your office environment to keep as much as possible within easy arms reach. Anything you use on a daily basis throughout the week is something that should be within easy reach. If you need to hunch over to dig in drawers, or if you need to stretch to reach folders, or if you need to crane your neck to use a phone, or anything else along those lines, you’re more than likely going to run into issues and strain muscles.
We recommend taking steps to keep your office environment as organized and easy to access as possible. We have a few tips for this kind of organization over here.
Keep in mind that this kind of organization can lead to clutter, and clutter can lead to stress. You might consider making use of a larger desk or space to create individual work zones you can transition to from time to time throughout the day, as necessary. For example, one area laid out for paperwork, one for computer use, and one for meetings. It all depends on your job and environment.
Dim the Lights
If at all possible, consider making your office environment a little less bright. You might not be able to dim the office fluorescents overhead, but you might be able to set up something to give you a little shade from their glare.
Another way you can dim the lights is by adjusting your computer screens. Your computer itself can be dimmed through controls on the monitor, or you can install an app like F.Lux if you have permission to do so. You can also adjust your phone to a lower brightness setting and a warmer color balance.
If this leaves your environment seeming a little dark and dim, you can pick up a simple desk lamp with a warm-colored bulb to add some illumination to the area. A low-wattage bulb is another idea, so you don’t introduce new forms of glare.
All of this can help alleviate eye strain and stress, which typically leads to headaches.
Invest in a Standing Conversion Desk
A common piece of advice for pregnant women is to stand and take a break every so often throughout your day. If you’re sitting all day, make time at least once an hour to stand and take a break to move around. If you’re standing all day, take time once an hour to sit for a time to get your weight off of your feet. You have a couple of options.
A sit-stand conversion desk is one option. With this kind of desk, you can transition between sitting and standing on a regular schedule. Combine that with your body’s natural inclination to need to hit the bathroom every 30-90 minutes, and you’ll have plenty of flexibility throughout the day.
Another option is a smart adjustable standing desk with an electric motor, which is the best choice. Whenever you need to get up to hit the bathroom, you can hit the button to adjust the height of your desk and come back to a desk adjusted to your perfect sitting or standing height.
Switch Between Sitting and Standing Often
The reason we mention using the frequency of bathroom breaks to adjust between sitting and standing is that it limits how long you’re stuck in one of the two positions.
If you’re sitting for a long period of time, you’ll end up with muscle issues. Posture can be difficult to maintain, and pressure on your pelvis can lead to issues over time. You can also find yourself more likely to experience muscle aches and headaches.
If you’re standing for a long period of time, you’ll end up with an increased chance of swollen legs and feet, sore feet, and back pain. This is especially true if you find yourself hunching over tasks frequently.
If you frequently transition between sitting and standing for about an hour at a time, you’re much more likely to avoid both sets of issues. You don’t spend enough time in any one position to fully engage in bad habits and posture, and that leaves you healthier overall.
Use an Anti-Fatigue Standing Mat
Part of successfully using a standing desk is using an anti-fatigue mat to help keep your feet comfortable. A hard floor, even one that doesn’t feel that hard when you’re initially standing on it, can lead to a cascading array of issues all up and down your skeleton. It’s better to use a floor mat specifically designed to stand on for long periods, so when you’re standing, you’re as free of stress as possible.
What to Avoid
In addition to this list of things to do, here are some things you should strive to avoid while pregnant in the office.
- Avoid unhealthy spaces. Avoid fumes, rooms with smoke in them, extreme temperatures, and health hazards.
- Avoid moving too fast. Trying to push yourself risks falling, hurting yourself, or otherwise causing an injury that can hurt both you and the baby.
- Avoid heavy lifting. Even in a warehouse environment with a low weight limit, you want to avoid lifting too much at any given time. Get someone else to do the lifting or team lift when necessary.
- Don’t cross your legs while sitting. Crossing your legs is inherently unhealthy while sitting, but while pregnant it can lead to especially bad issues with the pelvis, which can lead to other issues later. It can also cause circulation and swelling issues in your legs.
- Avoid twisting at your waist. When you need to turn to reach something, swivel your entire torso on your chair.
- Don’t let your legs dangle from your chair. If your chair is too high, this can cut off circulation to your legs and feet, as well as cause swelling issues.
As it turns out, many of the best tips to handle an office environment while pregnant are actually just good ergonomics in the first place. They may feel strange simply because you’re not used to them, but even once you’ve had your baby and you come back to work, you may find that some of them are too comfortable to abandon.
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