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Working While You’re Pregnant
More than 70% of pregnant women work outside of the home. In the United States, most women expect to continue working throughout their pregnancy and anticipate a return to the workplace within the first months of motherhood.

Early in your pregnancy, you should discuss your occupation with your doctor—identify the kinds of physical or emotional stresses and safety risks you face. Remind your doctor of any longstanding health problems or past pregnancy problems. If you are in good health and have been feeling well during your pregnancy, you are off to a good start. However, it’s wise to be aware of some factors that could affect your pregnancy.

Prolonged Standing
If your job requires you to stand for long periods of time, you may be increasing your risk for pre-term labor. Your employer may be able to modify your job by allowing you to sit down for some of the time, and permitting frequent breaks for resting or walking. Be sure to wear shoes that are comfortable and supportive, and elevate one foot on a low stool to lesson back strain while standing. Maternity support stockings can minimize swelling, varicose veins and fatigue. Your doctor may decide you need to have certain work restrictions or may choose to examine your cervix more often during the second half of pregnancy to detect any early signs of pre-term labor.

Prolonged Sitting
Sitting for long periods of time can cause stresses on your body, too. Place a supportive cushion against your lower back while you sit, avoid crossing your legs (which impairs circulation), and prop your feet up on a box or stool. Take frequent breaks to get up, walk around and stretch your muscles.

Although junk food and sweets may be the easiest ways to refuel yourself at work, take the time to eat well. Stay away from candy and chips; instead, choose protein-rich snacks, fruits and vegetables for your treats. Prepare foods such as cheese, hummus or peanut butter on crackers, fruit slices and raw vegetables before you go to work so you can munch on nutritious foods throughout the day. If you do, you’ll have more energy and less unwanted weight gain during your pregnancy.

Drink plenty of fluids—at least 8 cups of water a day. Coffee is okay in moderation, but you should limit yourself to two cups a day. And don’t forget your vitamins—folic acid is especially important before and during your pregnancy.

Work Hazards
Assess your work environment for potential health hazards—fumes, chemicals, radiation, and infectious agents—which may put you and your fetus at risk. Consider exposures to the following:

  • Heavy metals, such as mercury or lead

  • Pesticides

  • Household cleaning solvents

  • Chemotherapy agents

  • Smoke or noxious fumes

  • Infectious agents such as hepatitis, rubella, toxoplasmosis

  • Ionizing radiation (such as x-rays) and radioactive waste

  • Bring a list of these hazards to your health care provider to see what special precautions may be necessary during your pregnancy.

    Strenuous Work
    Work that includes heavy lifting, repetitive load carrying, manual labor and shift work have been associated with pre-term labor, back pain, and sometimes hypertension. Back strain commonly occurs in healthy pregnancies. You will be carrying a lot more weight around as your pregnancy progresses, shifting your centre of gravity and your sense of balance. Use good body mechanics when lifting: assume a wide stance with your legs, bend at the knees, and lift with your arms and legs. A sturdy set of shoes and a maternity harness, designed to help support your growing abdomen, may be helpful, too. If your job involves heavy lifting, discuss whether to modify or restrict some of your duties with your doctor.

    Lack of Time Off
    Rest periods are essential for your health and well-being. Most working women have two jobs: one in the workplace and one at home, caring for other family members and your household. Your pregnancy will be healthier if you create time during each day to relax, get off of your feet, and rest! Taking this precaution may keep you healthier and ultimately allow you to keep working later into the pregnancy.

    Pregnancy can be an emotional roller coaster. You may feel more sensitive and more reactive to people around you. Despite being exhausted, you may feel the need to prove yourself as more competent than ever, wishing to minimize any negative attitudes you may sense in the workplace. Make sure to include time each week to replenish yourself: meditation time, a massage, yoga, a relaxing bath. You will be better able to cope with the stresses around you if you can find a bit of inner peace. Exercise may increase your energy and is an extremely effective stress-buster. If you can’t get yourself to a gym on the days that you work, make time to get outside each day for fresh air and a walk.

    There may be additional stress as you prepare for taking time off from work—specific projects to finish, new personnel to train, extra tasks to minimize the effects your disability leave will have on your company. This is an area where organization can go a long way. Try to plan ahead, and be realistic about your capacities.

    Discuss with your doctor whether you should modify your work environment or job duties in any way and ask how long you will be able to keep working. You may need to stop working sooner if you carry twins or have a high-risk pregnancy. Some women reduce or restrict activities, work part-time, do some work from home, or create flexible schedules. If your job becomes too difficult due to medical concerns, your doctor may suggest you take a temporary leave. Find out about your company’s maternity leave policy and your state disability laws.

    No matter how much of a superwoman you are, pregnancy is bound to create extra fatigue, stress and strain in your work life. Modify your own expectations of yourself—you may not have the boundless energy you would like. As you learn to balance your own needs with the needs of those around you, take heart. These skills are just right for your next challenge—balancing motherhood and working!
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist