February 28, 2020

Pregnancy and work: Staying safe and healthy on the job

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Pregnancy and work are possible as long as your job is safe. What you can do to stay healthy and comfortable and continue working.

Congratulations on your pregnancy! If you work, you might be wondering if you can keep working throughout your pregnancy.

Many women do so without any problems. Pregnancy causes many changes in your body, so your ability to continue working depends on your overall health, the health of your fetus and what kind of work you do. Many jobs are safe to continue through pregnancy. Other jobs may be OK at the beginning of pregnancy, but later some duties may need to be changed or stopped. Sometimes your schedule or hours may need to change. No matter your job, the goal is to stay safe and comfortable.

Desk jobs

Most desk and computer jobs are safe during pregnancy. Because of fluid buildup during pregnancy however, some women develop carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists. This can make keyboard work difficult. As your body and posture change, back, neck and shoulder strain may also become problems if you sit all day. If you are pregnant and work at a desk or on a computer, these tips may help:

  • Take frequent breaks. Get up and walk around to improve blood flow and reduce swelling.
  • Use a pillow or cushion for lower back support.
  • Use correct hand and arm positions when using a computer. Use a wrist rest if you use a keyboard and mouse.
  • Use a phone headset to relieve neck and shoulder strain.
  • Don’t cross your legs or feet.

Standing work

Jobs that require standing for long periods can be hard on a pregnant body, causing back and leg pain. This is especially true late in pregnancy. Standing for long periods can also reduce blood flow to the fetus and may slow the baby’s growth. If you have to stand, try these tips:

  • Prop one foot on a short stool or box to help relieve back pain.
  • Ask if you can sit on a tall stool or chair rather than stand.
  • Take breaks often. Sit down, putting your feet up if possible.
  • Wear good, comfortable, well-fitted, low-heeled shoes.

Jobs doing heavy labor

If you have a job that often requires heavy lifting, pulling, pushing or other physical labor, talk with your healthcare provider about whether it is safe to continue. Pregnancy symptoms, such as dizziness and extreme tiredness, can make some physical jobs dangerous. As your center of gravity changes, your balance may suffer, making you more likely to fall.

Environmental risks

If you work with chemicals, radiation, heavy metals, gases or biological agents (such as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites) you may need to take extra precautions during pregnancy. Some hazardous agents get into the mother’s blood and can be passed to the fetus. Others can affect the mother’s health or harm the fetus directly. Talk with your healthcare provider about any specific concerns. Ask whether you should wear protective clothing. Always follow all safety procedures.

If you work in a very hot or cold environment or are exposed to loud noise, you may need to adjust your work tasks to avoid these extremes.

Work-related travel

If your job requires travel, try to schedule it during the middle of your pregnancy (between weeks 14 and 28). This is the safest time for travel. In the second trimester, early pregnancy symptoms have probably faded, but you are not yet too uncomfortable. Air travel is not recommended after 36 weeks of pregnancy. When traveling by air, consider these tips:

  • Try to book an aisle seat so you can get up and walk around during the flight, and have easier access to the bathroom.
  • Wear your seatbelt below your belly, across the hip bones.
  • Eat small meals.
  • If you are traveling out of the country, make sure you are up to date on necessary vaccinations. Avoid traveling to areas where there is a risk for malaria.
  • When traveling by car, limit driving time to no more than 5 or 6 hours. Stop often to stretch your legs. Always wear your seat belt.

Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about working while you are pregnant.

Vanderbilt Women’s Health provides care for women at all stages of their lives at locations across Middle Tennessee. Learn more here or call 615-343-5700.