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Pregnant Women and Work Concerns

Monday, November 25th, 2013

In 2012, women account for 47 percent of the salaried labor force in the United States ( It’s only natural that concerns would arise regarding pregnant women and working. Today, many pregnant women plan to work throughout their pregnancies – probably too many. Pregnancy alone places an extraordinary amount of stress on a woman’s body, and it is extremely important to get enough rest. The decision to stop working can be a tough one, financially, emotionally, and socially, but it may be essential to protecting maternal health and the health of the baby.

If a woman cannot stop working or chooses to work despite the risks, she should be aware of safety precautions that must be taken in order to minimize the risks involved. Even if she sits at a desk all day, she must remember to get up and move around regularly, drink plenty of water, and eat a healthy diet – those office fast-food runs aren’t going to cut it. If she stands for an extended time as a supermarket cashier, hairstylist, bank teller, etc, the pregnancy may be at risk for preterm delivery.  Therefore, she must walk around or sit down every hour or so.  Getting enough iron, calcium and protein may help somewhat with fatigue, but women should realize that fatigue is their bodies’ way of telling them to rest, so that’s what they should do.

Pregnant women should take steps to stay as comfortable as possible, including making sure the chairs they sit in are supportive, that they are not standing for prolonged periods of time, and that they are not doing excessive bending or lifting. Heavy lifting and twisting while lifting should be avoided altogether. Exposure to harmful substances should also be avoided.

A pregnant woman who works should seriously consider ways to cut back on activities in other areas of her life. For example, shopping online can create more time for rest. Or, if possible, hiring a service to clean the house or do yard work or enlisting the help of other family members is a good idea. She should also do everything in her power to get enough sleep, including going to bed early and lying on her side with pillows between her knees and under her belly for maximum comfort and to prevent swelling in her feet.

It will also be important to keep stress under control. Pregnant women should do what they can to reduce workplace stress. For example, making to-do lists and prioritizing tasks can help them take the work day one task at a time as well as identify tasks that can be delegated to someone else. Taking a few minutes alone to practice some relaxation techniques several times a day can keep stress at a minimum, as can having someone to talk to about frustrations.

The bottom line is that women should discuss their jobs with their health care providers to determine whether they need to make other arrangements for the duration of the pregnancy. A woman who is at risk for preterm birth should not work, period – she should be focused on resting with her feet up and drinking plenty of water. Although pregnancy is a normal physiologic process, the workplace may be unkind to a pregnant woman and if that is the case, a pregnant woman should seriously consider giving up her job, if at all possible, or at least cutting way back on her hours.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.