There’s no reason to stop working during a healthy pregnancy, but some occupations pose more risks than others during a pregnancy. A job that routinely involves long hours, standing for hours, heavy lifting or that exposes you to to chemicals may require some workplace accommodations.
Working in manufacturing, for example, can be exhausting but also involve exposure to metal fumes and solvents. Healthcare jobs may consist of sleep-disrupting shift work and close proximity to infectious agents. Farming may expose a pregnant women not only to to physical exertion and heat, but also pesticides and diesel fuel exhaust. To protect your health and the health of your developing baby, it’s important to discuss any potential risks with your doctor and ask your employer about possible accommodations. Here are a few risks to consider.
Working long hours and working at night has been associated with miscarriages and preterm birth, which may be due to stress or lack of sleep. Research found that babies born to mothers who worked more than 40 hours a week had a smaller head circumference and lower birth weight. Working at night, as in shift work, may affect a pregnant woman’s internal body clock, making it hard to get enough sleep. If your job does involve long hours or nighttime hours, it’s important to schedule enough time to relax, exercise, eat well and sleep.
Standing for long hours
Long periods of standing can also affect your baby’s growth and place you at an increased risk for preterm birth. Many jobs require standing or walking for long periods of time. If you feel fine, and your doctor has not identified yours as a high risk pregnancy, you may be able to work at a job that requires long periods of standing or walking, with some minor accommodations, such as taking frequent breaks and wearing comfortable low-heeled shoes. Wearing compression stockings can help prevent swollen feet.
However, if yours is a high risk pregnancy, standing for hours at a time can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Your doctor may advise you to stop working before you are full term.
Lifting heavy objects
Most women are advised not to lift anything heavier than 20-25 pounds, during their pregnancy, since heavy lifting can lead to an increased chance of miscarriage or premature birth. Changes in posture and balance during pregnancy can increase your risk of injury while hormonal changes affect ligaments and joints. Increased weight means your center of gravity changes. Dizziness and fatigue can also make you more accident prone. While you are pregnant you may have to temporarily stop lifting heavy objects. If you are a healthcare worker, for example, lifting patients may be a regular part of your job, but that kind of exertion is problematic when you’re pregnant. If your job regularly involves heavy lifting, discuss temporary accommodations with your doctor and your employer.
Most desk jobs are safe during pregnancy, but it’s important to get up and walk around frequently during the day. Spending multiple hours before a computer can result in eye strain, as well as back, neck, and shoulder strain. Walking around improves blood flow and stretching exercises can help prevent muscle strain. If you use a phone for work, get a headset or put your phone on speaker to minimize neck and shoulder strain.
Whether you’re a nail salon technician or an airplane pilot, your job may expose you to a variety of chemicals. Physical changes during pregnancy can affect the way you absorb those chemicals and the chemicals may also negatively affect your developing baby. Discuss any possible chemical exposure with your doctor. If your doctor says you can work with some accommodations, ask your employer to make whatever accommodations possible to minimize exposure. If you normally wear protective gear during your job, make sure it still fits over your expanding waistline.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) pregnant women should avoid exposure to aluminum, arsenic, carbon monoxide, lead, lithium and other chemicals. Epoxies, resins, radiation and secondhand smoke should also be avoided.
Pregnant women may worry about asking for accommodations, assuming they will endanger their jobs. According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act “If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee; for example, by providing light duty, modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay.
Additionally, impairments resulting from pregnancy (for example, gestational diabetes) may be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability related to pregnancy, absent undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense).”
If you need to take time off, because your doctor has advised you to stay home, you may be covered under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Specific guidelines for the risks associated with different occupations can be found on the CDC website.