My Experience of Working as Dentist whilst Pregnant

My baby may now be over half a year old, but I remember the challenges of working when she hadn't even entered the world! Working clinically was a big challenge for me which I hadn't really anticipated...

Pregnant and in Theatres 

This topic is a personal one and I should firstly say that every women and every pregnancy is different. It can also be a sensitive topic to talk about, so plucking up the courage to write this blog post has taken a while. I am mindful of all the people who have difficult fertility, pregnancy and motherhood journeys. Certainly I really did not appreciate what a feat falling pregnancy, carrying a baby for 9 months (although it was 8 for me in the end!), giving birth and surviving motherhood is until I have experienced it myself. 

I want to share my experiences and journey as I feel like it is something women and parents don't usually do, especially in dentistry. Our profession is increasingly a female majority where many will want to pursue having a family. Supporting and championing this is something I really care about - flexibility in their career, empowering women to grow both their personal and professional lives is something everyone should do in dentistry whether male, female or otherwise. 

I am grateful throughout my pregnancy and now maternity leave that my employers and colleagues have been amazingly supportive. I want to encourage all sectors to foster this positivity and support. The first step in this is the understand what adjustments might be needed for pregnant people... so here is my own personal journey of the pregnancy I have just gone through. 

The First Trimester 

Notwithstanding the excitement and also fear that came with finding out I was pregnant, was the confusion and uncertainty of when I should start telling people. Early on, similar to many women, I only wanted to tell a close circle of people - however particularly since I work with a certain patient group including the use of inhalation sedation, I felt that I had to tell my employer. I did this earlier than I legally had to as there are requirements to maternity leave in the UK of when you need to tell your employer. Please see your own contract of employment to verify this for your own personal situation.  

In Special Care Dentistry and the Community Dental Service as soon as a clinician's diary is blocked or dental nurse switched on the rota to avoid the use of nitrous oxide sedation, it almost like an unofficial pregnancy announcement! There are no specific guidelines that mandate this, but it is recognised that certainly in the first trimester inhalation sedation should be avoided due to risk of miscarriage. The choice whether to perform inhalation sedation is a personal one too and the opinion of the women should be taken into consideration - I did not want to take the risk myself, although I did do a few ad hoc sedations later on in my pregnancy. 

I did a risk assessment with my line manager and I spoke with our occupational health for any adjustments that I might need during my pregnancy, such as:
  • Avoiding some treatments (such as IHS as mentioned above)
  • Care with manual handling and patient assistance - for example I routinely use a hoist to get my patients into the dental chair. It was agreed that I wouldn't do this myself anymore, but my nurse/another team member would lead on this
  • Risk assessing individual patients - for example, I do see some patients who have challenging or unpredictable behaviour. We agreed if possible, other dentists should see these patients or I should see them jointly alongside another clinician 
  • Appointment lengths and breaks - build in longer appointments if needed and breaks if I needed to rest
  • Time off for my maternity and antenatal appointments (which is a legal requirement) 
People often say the first trimester is the worst - the morning sickness (which isn't just limited to the morning by the way) and the fatigue. Personally the sickness continued throughout my pregnancy which was a challenge when seeing patients. I also now completely understand first hand why pregnant patients get free NHS dental care.... I am pretty sure my oral health was the worse it has ever been when I was pregnant. I couldn't brush my teeth without vomiting, the frequency of sickness, the bleeding gums, and the grazing and snacking that happens to quell the nausea... I was scared that on the bitewings taken at my most recent check up there would be a sea of interproximal caries! (miraculously all was actually well!). 

I also had other symptoms that made working hard. I had about 2 weeks of sciatica which made it hard to sit in certain positions and it was painful to walk up and down stairs... it took me 10 minutes to get to bed at nighttime! Thankfully that subsided, but my immune system was clearly taking a beating from growing this new life. In my first trimester I had everything from a nasty bout of food poisoning to a chest infection. By the way, if you are employed any pregnancy related sickness should not count towards your sickness record. 

Second and Third Trimester

As my pregnancy progressed, the difficulties with manoeuvrability became more prominent. Cannulating sitting on the floor (which was something I routinely did for many patients) became out of the question. Even the space where I sat in my chair behind the dental chair became rather tight! 

The bigger I got, the further away the patients got! I ended up booking 15 minutes extra on top of my usual appointment lengths for treatments so I didn't feel rushed and could build in rest and when providing more complex treatments under sedation for example, I would book alongside another clinician or an extra nurse for support. My team were amazingly supportive and understanding - my nurse would always be ready with an emergency piece of fruit when my energy started to wane! 

It was interesting to see which patients would notice my condition... often women who had had babies themselves! Scrubs can hide a lot. A couple of my patients even bought some small baby gifts which was very sweet. The commute also began to take more and more of my energy (it was about an hour or so on the tube). I did always get a seat thanks to my 'Baby on Board' badge, but especially as the summer heat set in, it was not a pleasant journey! 

Going on Maternity Leave

Maternity leave started sooner than I had planned with my little one arriving almost a month early, which meant that my team literally saw me one day and the next I was off! I had planned to work quite late into my pregnancy to save the time off on maternity leave when the baby had arrived... but life has different plans for you! 

What I would say for anyone who is pregnant or planning on being one day, you can make the most detailed plans, but whatever happens you will make it work. I felt terrible going off early, cancelling patients - I felt like I had really caused some inconvenience for them and my colleagues. But ultimately what matter is your health and your baby's health. There are always other dentists and your patients will still be there when you get back to work. And on a personal note the same applies in terms of being ready for being a parent. I don't think you can ever feel fully ready. I read so many books, listened to lots of podcasts, watched programmes and documentaries.... but what really made me ready for being a parent is when I cuddled my baby for the first time and heard her newborn squawk. 

Now maternity leave is coming to an end! How time does fly and babies grow too quickly! I am thankful to have the most perfect, happy and healthy bubba and now its almost time for another life transition: working AND being a parent. 

I am sure I will blog more about this in the future. 

Please do share any experiences of working as a dental professional when pregnant and beyond if you feel comfortable doing so. Please leave them in the comments below.

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