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Research and pregnancy: Some advice

In my previous post, I wrote about how I envisioned pregnancy as something completely different as what it turned out to be for me. While I understand that every body, every woman, and every pregnancy is different, I do think I have some general advice to share with you. Whether you are a (PhD) student, on the tenure track, or tenured professor, the following points can be good to consider:

1. Don’t be afraid to tell your colleagues

As I wrote in my story, I worried about the reaction of my colleagues for various reasons. None of these worries turned out to be true. In the end, every body smiles and rejoices at the idea of a baby. Every body has plenty of anecdotes about their children and grandchildren they are happy to share with you, and that makes them happy remembering. In the past, I worried a lot about how to combine a family and career, and, in my case, how I would combine working in two continents and all my conference travel with raising a child. I now think that I maybe worried too much about the impact on my career and the reaction of colleagues.

2. Be gentle with yourself

Every pregnancy and every woman is different, but for almost all, pregnancy brings some aches and pains and side effects. I thought I would be able to ignore the whole thing and keep doing what I’m used to until the baby is born. I ended up getting quite frustrated with myself and the whole situation, which brought me despair, sadness, and anxiety. It took me some time to come to terms with the situation, but after embracing my body and what it is able to (i.e. grow a healthy baby!) instead of what it is not able to (work super hard), and learning to be more gentle with myself, the entire experience has become much more enjoyable. In the end, these nine months are a special time – and if you can, use them to enjoy them, to make space in your life, to prepare for motherhood, and to learn how to take things as they come.

3. Take frequent breaks

If you are not already taking frequent breaks to go to the bathroom all the time, consider taking a short break once or twice an hour to get up, walk around, and give yourself a stretch. I’ve noticed that all aches and pains -for me- get aggravated by prolonged sitting. Instead, when I walk around the office or house regularly, and add in walking breaks, I feel much better. Experiment with this to see what works for you, but you may find relief as you change position frequently.

4. Work where you are comfortable

Along the same lines as the previous point: don’t force yourself to work in an environment that is not suited to your needs. I have worked mostly from home during my pregnancy, where I use a sitting ball that makes me most comfortable. At the consultancy office where I work part time, I have temporarily abandoned my standing desk and shifted to a seated spot to alleviate my back. At university, I have an uncomfortable chair, so I’m simply avoiding that place as much as possible. If you lecture for many hours on end, see if you can alternate sitting and standing for your teaching. Do some stretches for your back, chest and shoulders during the day and at the end of the day – there are numerous free prenatal yoga videos that you can stream online that can help you stretch.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I tend to be rather stubborn, and never ask anybody for help. But as my belly grows, and my clumsiness increases, I’ve learned that there’s no shame in asking for help. It can be better for the ones around you to know how they can help you, than to see you struggle but be unsure on how to react. Just let the others know what they can do for you. Don’t be upset when nobody helps you with anything if you never ask – only you know how you feel, where your body is currently hurting, and what your limits currently are.

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