PhD while pregnant

PhD and Pregnant: The Race Against Biology

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(Last updated on: 09/06/2021)

I am thrilled to announce that this week I successfully passed my PhD viva with only (very) minor amendments! It seems only yesterday that I was writing my proposal and now I can amend my CV and Linkedin profile to say DR HAYLEY STAINTON! So, what was my motivation to do so much work (seriously, have you seen the size of this thesis!?) in such little time? I wanted to start a family…

Pregnant and doing a PhD!

If you haven’t committed to a PhD yourself, be under no illusion that this is any easy feat. You will have to read A LOT. You will have to write A LOT – and don’t forget about all the ‘thinking’ time we need in order to figure out what we are reading and writing. All you have to do is a bit of research on Google to find out that doing a PhD takes over your life. Then, if you were to Google the exact same thing about having a baby, you would quickly see many parallels. Doing a PhD takes your money, so does having a baby. Doing a PhD often impacts your ability to have a good social life, so does having a baby. Doing a PhD puts you in a constant mental haze of epistemologies, statistical tests and grammatical considerations, whilst having a baby brings on a haze of nappy changes, tummy time and lactation. Both will cause lack of sleep, but for entirely different reasons, and both may well drive you to crack open that bottle of red after a long day. It was not difficult to come to the conclusion that both doing a PhD and having a baby were all-encompassing life experiences. To try to do a good job of both at the same time was not only not probable, but may well not have been possible. So the race was on…

After my wedding at the end of 2015 (if you haven’t read about my amazing Thai-themed wedding yet you can find it here) I didn’t instantly start trying for a baby like many newlyweds choose to do. Instead, I ramped up my workload. This time last year I had my head stuck in books all day. I spent my Sunday mornings reading up on the benefits of the Yates Continuity Correction test or rules of regression and my Friday evenings reading any new literature that had emerged that week over a glass of wine. I exchanged my chilled-out Saturdays for student research conferences and I can’t count the number of times that I used conditioner instead of shampoo in the shower because I was distracted by the sentence I was writing in my head. I did all of this in the name of love for a child that was yet to be conceived. Between November 2015 and April 2016 I had collected and analysed two phases of data. By July I had completed my first draft.

The first trimester

In the spring the finish line began to emerge in the distance so I knew that it would be safe to start trying for baby Stainton. The positive pregnancy test coincided with the completion of my first draft, which in hindsight was a very good thing. The summer brought with it extreme tiredness and mild morning sickness and whilst I was far more fortunate than many mums-to-be, this would have severely impacted on my ability to continue working at the rate I had been the previous months. Waiting for my supervisors to provide feedback on my work provided me with valuable rest time during those first few torturing weeks of pregnancy.

The second trimester

My corrections came mostly during my second trimester, which as many of you will know is when you feel at your best. Whilst I found it difficult not having my go-to evening glass of wine to help quieten my ever-analysing mind at the end of a long day’s work, I was able (for the most part) to think clearly and write productively. By the end of the second trimester, I was finally in a position to submit my completed thesis.

PhD and Pregnant: The Race Against Biology

The third trimester

Throughout December I enjoyed some well-needed rest. Yes, doing a part-time PhD in 3 years was exhausting, but so is growing a human! My husband and I went on our babymoon to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, then concentrated on sorting out everything in my new house and preparing the nursery. My mock was at the beginning of January and my viva a few days later. Uncharacteristically, I only began to revise a few days before my mock. I instantly regretted this when I felt that I hadn’t given the best answers to my mock examiners. Have you ever heard of ‘baby brain’? Well, take it from me, IT IS REAL! I would describe it as being akin to the morning after you had one glass of wine too many: you’re not hungover but you’re not quite as sharp as you would usually be. I felt that my responses were too slow and that I couldn’t remember important parts of my research, work that I had spent so long writing only a few weeks beforehand. This was extremely frustrating, and worrisome.

Fortunately, I think that the adrenaline kicked in for the real thing – and coupled with some additional revision I was able to confidently answer all of the examiners’ questions. I could defend my thesis successfully subject to only a few minor amendments. Whoop whoop! As a person who normally gets very stressed about things like this I admit I was slightly concerned about the experience sending me into pre-term labour, but a couple of days have passed now and baby is still happily kicking me in the ribs! Next week I will make the amendments which include small things such as grammatical amendments and elaboration on some points (no big deal), and then I am done and dusted… from one life-encompassing project to the next!

My advice for the pregnant PhD

Having been working on my PhD throughout pregnancy, I will tell you that it’s not easy. You might have morning sickness, you will almost definitely be down on energy, ‘baby-brain’ might impact the quality of your work or the rate at which you progress. If you’re unlucky enough to have any other pregnancy complications then you will obviously have to factor those in too. Ultimately, I have achieved what I set out to accomplish in the time restrictions that I had – providing baby holds out a few more days so that I can do my amendments! But in hindsight, I think that it was probably a bit of a close call! I would advise you to do what you can before becoming pregnant, but if you do find yourself studying with a baby onboard then just take it easy, know that you are doing your best and that’s the best that you can do! Good luck!

Oh, a quick after-thought… what an amazing graduation photo I’ll have of my two biggest achievements – my PhD and my baby!

UPDATE: Here are the pictures- September 2017. 

PhD and pregnant

PhD and pregnant

25 Comments
  1. JenStewie

    Congratulations on completing your dissertation! And soon to be born baby! I’m about to start a PhD in International Development in April, and I’m a little excited about it and a lot afraid.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Thanks Jen! My PhD looked at TEFL in Thailand so had a lot of links to international development!! Best of luck with your research!

      Reply
  2. fiona

    Congrats. That is a lot of hard work and determination.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Thank you!

      Reply
  3. draliman

    Congratulations! I had enough trouble with just the PhD. When did you sleep? 🙂

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Thank you! Haha good question!!!

      Reply
  4. blinkingcat

    Congrats! You have worked hard for a long time and reached your dream. Now your going to work hard for a long time and help your little to reach their dream!

    Reply
  5. Atila

    Congratz Lisa! It’s encouraging to read your story, I’m sure lot of girls will relate to you! Awesome article.

    Reply
  6. Ayman

    Hi congratulations on sucessfuly completeting your PhD within the time set. This is my fourth year and I am still trying to balance between work and family commitments and the PhD work. You are such an inspiration.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Thanks Ayman, good luck with the rest of your research, you’ll get there in the end!

      Reply
  7. Anna

    An interesting read…I have a 22 month old, I’m in my 2nd year of a part time PhD and just found out I’m pregnant again. Needless to say I’m a little concerned about the balancing act of work vs family. Obviously I still have time before I need to finish but can’t see that having maternity leave during my studies as being a particularly productive time! So trawling the internet for inspirational stories to
    Help! Thanks for yours and well done. Hope your little one arrived safely.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Congratulations on your second pregnancy! My advice would be to do as much as you can whilst pregnant! You will get there, just might take a bit more planning of your time! Baby Isla arrived 3 weeks ago and we are both doing well thanks, have barely even thought about research since the birth, it’s all nappies and sleepless nights at the moment!

      Reply
      • Prachi Agarwal

        Hi..i m Indian and doing phd from US.Came here with student visa and two dependent visa of my husband and 5 year old son.Yesterday i got news i Am pregnant .Will university allow me to continue regular phd? Or i need to drop my pregnancy option? Please let me know.

        Reply
        • Hayley

          The university have to support you, it’s the law! Congrats on the pregnancy!!

          Reply
      • Maie

        Congrats dear !
        My Phd program (thesis only) will start almost the same time when delivering my baby (!!!). Any advise about that ?

        Reply
        • Hayley

          Good luck!

          Reply
  8. Erkenbrand

    Hi have you any additional comment on support for becoming pregnant whilst doing a PhD? As there’s no maternity benefit in place for students and if the funding body won’t fund you whilst taking time off to have a baby..?

    Reply
    • Hayley

      It’s a shame you’re not entitled to mat leave when doing a funded PhD. I guess my advice would just be the budget as best you can while pregnant and make as much progress as you can before Baby arrives!

      Reply
  9. tbar

    Wow, your story is so similar to mine. I too got pregnant at the end of my PHD (5 year program), got the news the day I finished the first draft of my dissertation, and had wonderful pictures of my son on graduation (in 2017 as well). Congratulations!

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Wow, congratulations to you too!!

      Reply
  10. SuBhaSun

    Congratulations for your Ph.D and baby. I truly admire this post and can totally relate to this. I, myself have experienced the same phase of doing Ph.D and having pregnancy at the same time. Cheers to us!

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Thank you and well done to you too- cheers!

      Reply
  11. Michelle

    I absolutely LOVE that photo of you and your baby in your gown! I hope to have the same picture one day. I’m finishing my 2nd year right now, and my fiancé and I would like to start trying during my 3rd year. Is there a reason you decided to wait until your last year, or was that when you just felt like you were ready and wanted one? I know a baby + PhD are never “convenient” for lack of a better term, but I still want to have my first child before I finish my program. Your title race against biology is so relevant !

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Thanks Michelle! I love that pic too! I waited until I thought I could complete in 9 months so I wouldn’t be writing it with a baby. But this was also a convenient time, we had only been married a few months and were in the process of buying a bigger house so it wasn’t only down to the PhD that I waited until then. I would say go for it in your second year if that’s where you are at family wise but just be aware that your progress will probably slow a lot once baby arrives! I struggle to get a blog post a week written, which is far easier to write than my PhD was!

      Reply
  12. Joseph J. Sarmiento

    This is really a helpful article for all new mom including me. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply

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