Menopause at work

menopause at work

Pregnancy at work

I’ve gone through both pregnancy and menopause at work and I can’t help but reflect on the differences between the two experiences.

Apart from the fleeting shadow of terror that passes across your boss’s face when you break the news – signalling their mind has already leapt to the challenges of maternity leave and cover – the overwhelming response to becoming pregnant while employed is one of joy.

It’s as if the whole office wants to be part of the journey, from the first chorus of “congratulations, how wonderful”, right through to the prerequisite baby shower, gifts and morning tea.

Once into your second trimester, there is no hiding your condition. You wear your baby bump with pride and are bombarded daily by the concerned, the caring and the curious. “How many weeks are you now?”, “do you know if you are you having a boy or a girl?”, “how are you feeling?”, “remember to get plenty of rest”. And if you’re not feeling great and need to take sick leave or time off work to go to doctor’s appointments? No problem – the workplace is (for the most part) sympathetic and accommodating.

Menopause at work

Contrast that with going through menopause at work. This is definitely not worthy of a workplace announcement. There is no sense of joy in your heart or your workmates. In comparison to the public celebration that is pregnancy, menopause feels like your dirty little secret.

Even if you’re aware that the huge emotional and physical shift playing out in your life is the first sign of menopause, you wouldn’t dream of talking about it. Especially to your boss. Indeed, there may be the outward signs of hot flushes but these will not be obvious to many. And those who do notice are generally too sensitive (or is that embarrassed?) to comment. Furthermore, if your health is feeling compromised due to symptoms you certainly aren’t going to ask for time off. Even if your need is greater than that of your pregnant work colleague. Your signs can go on for much longer than nine months and severely affect your quality of life if untreated.

The two experiences couldn’t be more different.

But should they be?

Pregnancy and menopause are two completely natural life stages for women. Both signal a shift in hormonal balance that requires the same response – compassion from others and huge doses of self-care from yourself. These are two times in your life when you need to be kind to yourself. Understand and accept your physical limitations. Recognise your emotional roller coaster for what it is. Rest and reflect often. Ask for advice from those who have gone before you. Eat well. Exercise regularly. And enjoy.

If managed well, menopause, like pregnancy, can be a time of new found freedom.

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This is the time when menstruation is well and truly over, the ovaries have stopped producing high levels of sex hormones and for many ladies, perimenopause symptoms subside.

Estrogen has protective qualities and the diminished levels mean organs such as your brain, heart and bones become more vulnerable. It’s also a key lubricant so your lips may become drier, your joints less supple and your vagina might be drier. In addition, your thyroid, digestion, insulin, cortisol and weight may alter.

At this juncture, a woman might experience an increase in the signs of reduced estrogen but she should have a decrease of perimenopause symptoms. That said, some women will experience symptoms like hot flushes for years or even the rest of their lives.


Peri = ‘near’

Most females begin to experience the symptoms of perimenopause in their mid-forties. Your progesterone levels decline from your mid-30s but it’s generally from around 40 that the rest of your sex hormones begin to follow suit. 

Perimenopause is a different experience for every woman and some women may barely notice it. The first indicators are usually changes to the monthly cycle. This means that for some ladies, this can be accompanied by things like sore breasts, mood swings, weight gain around the belly, and fatigue as time goes on.

For those with symptoms it can be a challenging time physically, mentally and emotionally.

Importantly, perimenopause lasts – on average – four to 10 years. The transition is usually a gradual process and many women enter perimenopause without realising.