Being pregnant on the job
Juggling pregnancy and teaching
21 March 2022
We all know that teaching isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a demanding job, that even on the best of days can be mentally and physically exhausting. Throw pregnancy into the mix, with all its weird and not-so-wonderful side-effects (not to mention any awkward questions from your students!), and it can make for a bumpy nine-month ride. While most women can carry on working during pregnancy, there might be some challenges. So what can you do to look after yourself and keep doing your job well?
Symptoms (thank goodness they don’t last forever!)
Pregnancy can bring a few or many challenges – some minor and some downright unpleasant. While it’s unlikely that they’ll stop you from doing your job, they can mean a very long day. Without the option of a quick afternoon nap, it’s good to have some tricks up your sleeve that might help.
Morning sickness (in reality, all-day sickness for some!) can strike at any time but usually around the fourth week of pregnancy. For most women it’s passed by the 12th to 14th week, but for some women it can last into their second trimester or longer.
So what can you do? Unfortunately for teachers, even if the feelings of nausea and sickness are limited to first thing in the morning, you can’t delay starting your working day (although your students might jump at the chance of a lie-in!). It’s probably going to be a case of trial and error to see which remedies work for you. Some tried and tested ones include:
- eating dry crackers or plain biscuits as soon as you wake up
- eating small, healthy meals and snacks more often (limiting fatty, spicy and fried foods)
- having frequent small drinks (sips of flat lemonade, diluted fruit juice, cordial, weak tea, ginger tea, or clear soup can help, even just plain old ice cubes)
- vitamin B6 supplements (but only on your doctor’s advice)
- acupressure or acupuncture on the wrist
- wearing loose clothes
- ginger tablets, dry ginger ale, peppermint tea or ginger tea
- avoiding cooking or preparing foods (now’s the time to delegate or outsource if you’re the chef of the house)
- resting whenever possible  (if only!).
If you have nausea and vomiting that won’t stop, contact your doctor or midwife. And always seek medical advice if your morning sickness is severe, if you’ve lost a lot of weight, or feel depressed or anxious.
You may feel like you’ve aged overnight but don’t worry, it’s just your body getting ready for labour. The ligaments become softer and stretch, which unfortunately can cause backache. The extra weight from your little bundle of joy can also make it worse. If you’re suffering from backache, try to:
- avoid lifting heavy objects
- bend your knees and keep your back straight if lifting or picking up something from the floor
- move your feet when turning around to avoid twisting your spine
- wear flat shoes so your weight is evenly distributed (goodbye heels and hello supportive sneakers!)
- maintain good posture (try to avoid stooping, which might be tricky if you teach younger kids)
- sit with your back straight and well supported
- avoid standing or sitting for long periods
- make sure you get enough rest, particularly later in pregnancy.
Massage, hot packs, acupuncture, and gentle exercise (like walking and swimming) can also help with backache (with your doctor’s sign-off).
If the pain continues, changes, or becomes severe, see your doctor or midwife for advice. If your back pain is associated with any blood loss from the vagina, seek medical advice urgently.
Going to the loo more frequently
One symptom of pregnancy that can be particularly tricky when you’re teaching is needing to go to the loo more frequently. While it’s definitely inconvenient, it is normal, caused by hormonal and physical changes. When you’re pregnant, your body produces more fluids than at other times, your kidneys become more efficient, and as your uterus becomes larger it pushes against your bladder. Weak pelvic floor muscles (which support the bladder, uterus and bowel) can also be a factor.
While you can’t avoid needing to urinate more frequently, you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Strengthening these muscles can help you ‘hold in’ your urine. It’s best to do pelvic floor exercises even before becoming pregnant, but it's never too late! And remember to keep up your pelvic floor exercises after your baby is born too. Read more about pelvic floor exercises. Having a friendly colleague nearby is also helpful so you can duck away for quick toilet breaks!
It’s common to feel tired during pregnancy. Hormonal changes, the extra weight you’re carrying, and the obstacles to getting a good night’s sleep can all result in one very tired mumma-to-be.
To help you get through to that end-of-day bell, try to rest as much as possible (easier said than done) and accept any offers of help from colleagues and family. It might also help to:
- eat foods rich in iron and protein like red meat, poultry, seafood, leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified wholegrain cereal and beans
- drink plenty of fluids and sip throughout the day
- cut back on activities to get more rest when your workday ends (time to pre-cook and freeze meals and outsource those chores!)
- exercise (if your doctor approves) and do five-minute mindfulness or breathing exercises to boost your energy levels
- relax regularly (a warm bath, music or a good book can help)
- aim for at least eight hours of sleep every night (something that’s harder to achieve once that new bubba arrives!).
Hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to the skin can make you feel warmer than normal which can also add to fatigue. Try to:
- wear layers of comfortable, loose clothing made of natural fibres, and avoid synthetic fibres which don’t breathe
- keep your classroom as cool as possible
- drink plenty of water.
Indigestion and heartburn
Heartburn (a burning pain in the throat or chest) is caused by stomach acid coming up the oesophagus and irritating the lining. In the early stages of pregnancy, it can be caused by changes in hormone levels, and it becomes more common later in pregnancy as the baby pushes up against your stomach (hi, baby!).
If your symptoms are mild, diet or lifestyle changes can help. Try:
- eating smaller meals, more often
- not eating just before bed
- not eating and drinking at the same time, which can make your stomach more full
- sitting up straight while eating, and not lying down after a meal
- chewing gum, which may help you produce more saliva to help neutralise the acid
- raising the head of your bed by 10 to 15cm
- sleeping on your left side.
If your indigestion is not helped by diet and lifestyle changes, or your symptoms are more severe, speak to your doctor or midwife. They can suggest a medicine that is safe to use during pregnancy and check that it’s not a sign of something more serious.
Swelling (in more places than one!)
Most women get swollen ankles and feet while pregnant, especially later in the day and later in the pregnancy. This is mainly due to gravity with any extra fluid in your body sinking to your feet and ankles, especially when you’re on your feet teaching. Gradual swelling isn't harmful to you or your baby, but it can feel uncomfortable. Try:
- avoiding standing for long periods in one position without moving
- wearing comfortable and supportive shoes
- putting your feet up as much as you can
- limiting salty foods and excessive salt in your diet
- sleeping on your left side (which helps blood return to the heart)
- exercising regularly(like walking or swimming) to help your circulation
- massage and reflexology (with your doctor’s sign-off)
- compression stockings.
Contact your midwife, doctor or hospital immediately if:
- swelling is there at the start of the day or doesn't go down when you rest
- your face or hands are swollen
- the swelling is more than you’ve had before.
Private health insurance
To find out how Hospital and Extras cover can support you, head to our Pregnancy Guide. Whether it’s knowing what you’re covered for, using your cover to access pregnancy support services, or post-natal support once your baby has arrived, we’ve got all the info to help.
New Families Program
Even if you’ve done it before, each pregnancy, birth and baby can present its own challenges. Teacher Health’s New Families Program supports eligible members through baby bump and beyond with online antenatal and early parenting courses, telephone support and more.
It’s worth it in the end
Unfortunately, there’s often no quick fix when it comes to the uncomfortable side-effects of pregnancy and they can certainly be inconvenient when you’re face-to-face teaching. Remedies that work for some women won’t work for others, so it may be a case of trial and error to figure out what will help you get through the day at school. Most importantly, don’t forget to prioritise self-care. Your body is doing something amazing, so it’s vital that you look after your mental and physical health. In short, be kind to yourself, accept help from friends, family and colleagues, and always speak to your doctor or midwife with any concerns.