Pregnancy and work
Prenatal care - work
If your job requires heavy lifting, you may need to stop working or reduce your work hours. Most women are advised to only lift things that weigh under 20 pounds (9 kilograms) during pregnancy. Repetitively lifting heavier objects often causes back injury or disability.
Some types of work may require that you stand for prolonged periods. Ask your employer to allow you to sit for 15 minutes for every hour you're required to stand. Wear compression stockings to decrease swelling in your legs. Make sure to take routine bathroom breaks to relieve your bladder and decrease risks for urinary tract infections. Make sure to stay hydrated and report any signs or symptoms of dizziness and lightheadedness to your employer.
Exposure to Workplace Hazards
If you work in a job where you are around hazards (poisons or toxins), you may need to change your role until after the baby is born. Some hazards that may pose a threat to your baby include:
- Hair colorants: When pregnant, avoid getting or giving hair treatments. Your hands could absorb the chemicals in the color.
- Chemotherapy drugs: These are drugs used to treat people with health problems like cancer. They are very strong drugs. They may affect health care workers like nurses or pharmacists.
- Lead: You could be exposed to lead if you work in lead smelting, paint/battery/glass making, printing, ceramics, pottery glazing, toll booths, and heavily traveled roads.
- Ionizing radiation: This applies to x-ray techs and people who work in some types of research. Also, airline flight attendants or pilots may need to reduce their flying time during pregnancy to reduce their radiation exposure.
- Are the levels toxic?
- Is the workplace ventilated (Is there proper airflow to let the chemicals out)?
- What system is in place to protect workers from hazards?
If you work on a computer, you may notice numbness or tingling in your hands. This may be carpal tunnel syndrome. The numbness and tingling is caused by your body holding onto extra fluid.
The fluid causes swelling of tissues, which pinch down on the nerves in the hands. It is common in pregnancy as women retain extra fluid.
The symptoms may come and go. They often feel worse at night. Most often, they get better after you give birth. If the pain is causing you problems, you can try a few things for relief:
- If you work at a computer, adjust the height of your chair so your wrists aren't bent downward as you type.
- Take short breaks to move your arms and stretch your hands.
- Try a wrist or hand brace or an ergonomic keyboard.
- Sleep with a splint or brace on your hands, or prop your arms on pillows.
- If pain or tingling wakes you up at night, shake your hands until it goes away.
If your symptoms get worse or affect your daily life, talk to your health care provider. Do not take Motrin, Advil, Aleve, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to decrease swelling and inflammation while pregnant.
Stress at work, and everywhere else, is a normal part of life. But too much stress can lead to health problems for you and your baby. Stress can also affect how well your body can fight off infection or disease.
A few tips to deal with stress:
- Talk about your worries with your partner or a friend.
- See your provider for regular prenatal care.
- Follow a healthy diet and stay active.
- Get plenty of sleep each night.
Ask for help when you need it. If you are having a hard time dealing with stress, tell your provider. Your provider may refer you to a counselor or therapist who can help you better manage the stress in your life.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Committee opinion number 832. Exposure to toxic environmental agents.
Gregory KD, Ramos DE, Jauniaux ERM. Preconception and prenatal care. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 5.
Hobel CJ, Williams J. Antepartum care: preconception and prenatal care, genetic evaluation and teratology, and antenatal fetal assessment. In: Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ, eds. Hacker & Moore's Essentials of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 7.
Last reviewed on: 11/21/2022
Reviewed by: LaQuita Martinez, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Alpharetta, GA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.