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Sporting a Bump Behind the Chair

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

About the author:

LeeAnn Miley is a salon owner based in Hastings, Nebraska, and the President and Executive Director of The Sovereign Stylist. Her personal experiences led her to advocate and educate stylists on proper worker classification. LeeAnn’s blogs are typically focused on tax compliance, worker classification, and general business practices. LeeAnn believes that laws and business are powerful entities when one has knowledge of them and has dedicated herself to spreading such knowledge to the industry she loves.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child literally the same day I started my first salon job, perfect timing. Let’s just say it was a day full of emotion. Not only was I going to be bringing another bouncing baby into our family, but my dream of working behind the chair finally came true. I was overwhelmed with excitement but quickly realized my dream of making people feel beautiful about themselves might once again be put on hold. You see, my first pregnancy was hard. I had been diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, which is an extreme form of morning sickness that doesn’t go away after the first trimester and causes severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

The possibility of having another difficult pregnancy was not my only concern. I was worried about the long hours on my feet, exposure to chemicals, how was I going to break this news to my manager, what would clients say, and when the hell was I going to pee?! I had to remind myself that I was not the first-ever hairstylist to become pregnant and that is why I am writing this blog. I want to share with you the things I learned while sporting a bump behind the chair.

That night, I did a ridiculous amount of research. There are a number of scientific studies that have examined whether hairstylists are at increased risk of a poor pregnancy outcome. Overall, the studies suggest that hairdressers are no more likely to experience a poor pregnancy outcome than non-hairdressers,


Telling Your Employer

There is an old wive’s tale of not telling anyone you are pregnant until your first trimester is over; however, it is advised that your employer be aware of your pregnancy as early as possible because there are occupational health hazards that will need to be accounted for. I know this can be nerve-racking because what if they reduce your hours or let you go. Let me reassure you, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.

More than likely, your employer is going to appreciate the heads up. Here are some tips from, What to Expect, for sharing your exciting news:

  • Figure out if you need to adjust your responsibilities. It is advised that hairstylists work 35 or fewer hours a week and get off their feet as much as possible. Plan to make arrangements to adjust your work responsibilities until you're ready to deliver.

Some things that I did were swap some responsibilities with coworkers, make sure I blocked out time for breaks and committed to working fewer hours a week.
  • Plan for coverage while you're out. Think about how your job will get done while you're out on leave. Since your boss's first reaction may be to panic about the workload rather than congratulate you on your baby-to-be, it's wise to arm yourself with a list of ideas and solutions for how your job can be managed in your absence.

During my last trimester, I arranged for my clients to meet with the stylists I had picked for their next services so we could talk over their expectations and get to know each other. I also made service cards for each of my regular clients so that my co-workers could refer back to my notes before the service. Another thing I did was ensure my fellow stylists and management that they were more than welcome to call or text me with any questions.
  • Set aside the time. Schedule an appointment to meet with your boss to tell them your big news, so no one will be rushed or distracted — and be ready to postpone the day if necessary.

  • Accentuate the positive. Never start with apologies - you have nothing to be sorry for. Instead, let your boss know you're happy about the pregnancy, confident in your ability, and committed to your plan to mix work and family.

  • Be flexible (but not spineless). Have a plan in place, but be open to discussion and compromise. But don't back down completely: Come up with a realistic bottom line and stick to it.

In my situation, the manager asked if I would mind picking up some of her administrative duties since they were less strenuous and she was going to be picking up more of my clients behind the chair, which I had no problem doing.
  • Set it in writing. Once you've worked out the details of your pregnancy protocol and maternity leave, confirm it in writing so there won't be confusion later.

This was important to me because I wanted to be sure that, over the next nine months, I wasn’t going to overwork myself and cause strain on the baby and myself.


How to Physically Manage

One of my biggest concerns about being pregnant and working in the salon was the exposure to chemicals and fumes. Of course, I had friends and family members in my ear telling me that being around the various chemicals in the salon on a daily basis could affect my pregnancy and the baby. Obviously, I didn’t want to jeopardize my pregnancy or this little peanut growing inside of me. So, I did my research….a LOT of research.

Back in the 80s, a lot of hair dyes contained chemicals that could be harmful to unborn babies in high doses, but over time many of these chemicals have been eliminated from oxidative dye products. Essentially, studies show that exposure to the chemicals from hair dyes or hair products results in very limited systemic absorption unless there are burns or abscesses on the scalp. Therefore, these chemicals are unlikely to reach the placenta in substantial amounts to cause harm to the fetus, but my OBGYN still recommended wearing gloves, whenever possible, to limit exposure.

What about breathing in the chemicals? In a study conducted by Public Health Physicians of Canada, 26 salons were sampled in Montreal, Canada, between June 1996 and December 1997. All chemicals measured were well below the threshold limits recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

So, while my little peanut and I were going to be okay when it came to being around the chemicals, my stomach was not. The odor of perm solution and some of the styling products used on clients would rev up my already hyperactive nausea. I learned a couple of tricks. First, try popping a powerful mint because mint is known to counter nausea. The other thing I started doing was rubbing a drop of essential oil under my nose and if that isn’t strong enough, Vick’s will work too.

Here are more tips, from stylists who have been there, to physically get through your pregnancy on the clinic floor:

  • Get off your feet. Standing all day can affect circulation and can cause water retention which leads to swelling in your feet. Take every opportunity you can to sit with your feet up.

While my clients were processing, between clients, and even while folding towels, I would sit with my feet up.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps your body absorb essential nutrients and transports vitamins, minerals, and hormones to blood cells. It's those nutrient-rich blood cells that ultimately reach your baby. Drinking water also helps to preserve an ideal level of amniotic fluid and even helps fetal kidney function.

An issue I experienced was heartburn & indigestion from, of all things, water. My doctor advised me to drink alkaline water and it really helped. While you may want to reach for soda or coffee, for a dose of caffeine to pep you up, these drinks are dehydrating and will defeat the purpose of drinking anything to begin with.
  • Snack! Not only do you have a little human growing inside of you, robbing your body of nutrition, but an empty stomach can also make nausea worse. Keep a variety of high protein snacks on hand like nuts, string cheese, dried fruit & power bars.

  • Keep cool. Pregnant women have an increased amount of blood in their body, so it causes them to feel warmer than most people. For a woman's body to handle the extra blood, the blood vessels dilate slightly, bringing blood closer to the surface of the skin and causing the woman to feel warmer.

Trust me, you will start sweating from places you never knew you could sweat from. See if it is okay to keep a small fan at your station or at least in the back room. Style your hair so that it is off your neck and forehead. Wear cool & comfortable clothes that are cotton blends to allow your body to breathe. My favorite go-to outfit was usually a tunic dress with a cute cardigan or a long flowing skirt and a trendy cotton top.
  • Bathroom breaks. If there is anything you take away from this blog, it is PEE WHEN YOU HAVE TO PEE! First of all, clients are going to understand if you need to step away between foils to relieve your bladder. Second, urinary tract infections are more prominent when you are pregnant and they are not fun.

  • Comfort over cuteness. When it comes to shoes and clothing remember “comfort over cuteness.” Yes - you can still look professional and your new glow will have you looking like a beauty, but you aren’t always going to feel that way. It is important to wear shoes that are going to promote circulation, have a good arch, and be comfortable for the long hours on your feet.

During my third and fourth pregnancies, I struggled with circulation in my legs and began retaining water. So, I opted to start wearing a supportive hose which promoted circulation. They made a world of difference but weren’t exactly runway material.


How to Psychologically Cope

One of the hardest things I had to deal with, that no one prepares you for, is the comments from clients. Being asked, “when you are due,” and, “what are you having,” multiple times a day can really wear on your already stretched nerves. I remember when my last client of the day sat down in my chair and asked me if I knew what I was having and this was the millionth time I had answered this question for the day. I looked at her and told her a baby elephant. Of course, I knew what I was having, a baby human, and of course, I knew she was wondering whether it was a boy or girl, but I was mentally shot for the day. I apologized quickly and we both laughed. Luckily, she was a mother herself so she understood the lack of patience and the inability to remain classy.

Another thing that really messed with my self-confidence was the inability to go about my daily routine without my stomach getting in the way. There was the ability to reach the client’s hair, to begin with, because of my new body shape. Then, I had to learn a new way to shampoo clients to make room for my tummy. Help with the added strain on my back and adjust so the client wasn’t getting a face full of my chest. There are so many body changes we go through while being pregnant: from new hair growing in new places, clumps of hair coming out from where it belongs, sweating non-stop, and the obvious enlargement happening.

It is important to surround yourself with a positive support system of friends and family, who can give you a boost when you are feeling frustrated. Embrace your ability to grow a tiny human; look forward to the new exciting adventure upon you; and, most importantly, remember it won’t always be this way.

I feel that it is also important to set realistic expectations of yourself. It is not fair to think that just because other moms worked right up until the day they delivered, that you will too. Our jobs, as cosmetologists, require a lot of physical and mental strain on our bodies and it is okay to check out early, the health of you & your new family member needs to always be the priority over Karen’s root retouch.


After the Baby

Once the baby arrives, it is time for a new plan of action to kick in. Figuring out when — or if — you should go back to work can be a new mom's toughest decision. It's easy to get overwhelmed with all the factors you have to consider; so, I have broke them down for you according to the website What to Expect:

  • Emotionally: How will you feel about being away from your baby? (You might not know until you do it and that's okay.) How comfortable are you with the idea of someone else caring for him/her? How important is it to keep your career on track? Can you live without the unique fulfillment that a career brings, or is it a too important part of who you are? How will you feel about missing any of the major milestones in your baby's life — first words, first steps?

  • Logistically: If you do choose to go back to work, will you put your little one in daycare or hire a nanny? Is there a relative who can tend to him/her? Is your partner willing (and able) to take over the reins? How many hours are you willing to work? Even if you're not headed back right away, it's a good idea to think now about what type of arrangement would work best for you. If you can't come up with a scenario that will allow you to comfortably leave the home, your choices may be more limited.

  • Financially: Staying at home (even part-time) isn't an option for many mothers; they simply must work. To find out if you can afford to quit or reduce your hours, make a budget. List how much you require for fixed expenses — mortgage or rent, insurance, loan payments, utilities, food, and so on — and how much you need for extras like dinners out. Now, determine how much money you absolutely must have to be modestly comfortable (with a cushion for emergencies). Consider whether the money you'll make will offset the costs of earning it (gas, clothing, childcare, lunches — and time away from your baby). Are there options to cut your time away from home — like working part-time, or full- or part-time from home or job sharing?

The amount of time you take off will depend mostly on whether you have the baby naturally or via c-section. Recovery time is difficult to predict because different moms experience different levels of postoperative soreness. Most women stay in the hospital for 24-48 hours after a vaginal birth versus 3-4 days when having a c-section. Most OBGYNs recommend a new mother wait at least six weeks before returning to regular activity, including returning to work. I had 4 c-sections and took off six weeks for the first 2 and eight weeks for the last two.

Be prepared for some changes when you head back to the salon. Your body is going to need time to adjust from being off of work and is still probably healing from birth. I only went back to work part-time, at first. Also, be prepared that some of your regular clients won’t return to you. Maybe they weren't sure when you were returning and continue to book with the stylist you left them with, or maybe they have found a new salon all together. That’s okay, it makes room for new & loyal clients.

If you are breastfeeding, you will have to schedule your appointments in order to make time to pump. Federal law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has the need to express the milk (Section 7 of the FLSA). Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.


Being an Independent Stylist While Pregnant

I was a booth renter during my last pregnancy and things are different when you are not an employee. While it is more convenient because you are in charge of your own schedule, you miss out on some of the protections that an employee has. Independent Stylists do not qualify for theFamily and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles employees to take a leave of absence from work - unpaid. This holds your position at the salon while on maternity leave. It also does not require that the salon owner provide you with a private space to pump breast milk. Independent Stylists are also responsible for paying rent on their space while they are on leave unless arrangements are made with the salon owner.


In Conclusion

Finding out you are pregnant is an exciting moment in your life, and you should not feel bad for inconveniencing an employer; however, it is important to tell them early in your pregnancy because the ability for you to perform services, as usual, is going to change. It is also important to take care of your body, both physically and psychologically, and surrounding yourself with a good support system will definitely help. The decision IF and WHEN to return to work is different for each individual, and it is a decision that will require a lot of reflection. If you do decide to return to behind the chair, be prepared for things to be different compared to pre-baby bump.

We would love for you to share your experiences in the comments below. Your story and/or tips could help out another fellow stylist!

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