Staying healthy and safe at work
Most working women can keep working during their pregnancy. Some women will work right up until the day their baby arrives. Working during pregnancy may have some challenges. Learning how to stay safe and comfortable can help you have a healthy pregnancy at the workplace.
How can you manage common pregnancy discomforts at work?
During pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, you may find it hard to manage common pregnancy discomforts while at work. Here are some tips:
Even though it's called morning sickness, nausea during pregnancy can happen at anytime during the day. Follow these tips to help ease morning sickness.
- Avoid smells or foods that bother you.
- Snack on crackers or other bland foods that are low-fat (for example: rice, toast, and applesauce).
- Try eating 5-6 small meals during the day instead of three larger meals.
- Drink lots of fluids throughout the day.
- Get plenty of rest and take it slowly in the morning.
You might be feeling more tired than usual, especially during early and late pregnancy. To fight fatigue and make it through the day:
- Take breaks often; get up and walk for a few minutes or try taking a short power nap in your car during your lunch break.
- Go to bed early so you can get plenty of rest.
- Exercise when you can; it'll help you have more energy during the day.
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, but ease up before going to bed so you don't have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
- Eat healthy foods, especially foods that are rich in iron and protein.
- Relax and avoid stressful situations when possible.
How can you keep a safe work environment?
It's important that the environment around you is safe for you and baby.
Talk to your health provider if you work with:
Being in contact with these kinds of things without proper safety equipment (gloves, gowns and masks) can cause birth defects, miscarriage or other serious health problems. Describe your work environment to your provider and any safety equipment you or your company uses. Your provider can then tell you if it's safe for you to keep working during pregnancy.
Also talk to your health provider if you work in extreme heat. Working in places that are very hot can raise your body temperature. If your body temperature is too high, it could be dangerous to the baby.
Jobs like working with children or in a health care setting are more likely to expose you to other people who are sick. Some of these illnesses (like chickenpox, rubella, flu) can be very harmful to you during pregnancy. Take extra steps to keep safe. Be sure to wash your hands regularly. If you think you and baby's health may be at risk, talk to your provider right away.
Heavy duty jobs
Some jobs may involve more physical labor than others. For example, if your job includes heavy lifting or climbing, it might not be safe for you during pregnancy. In early pregnancy, nausea, fatigue and dizziness can make it hard to do these jobs safely. Later in pregnancy, your added weight can throw off your sense of balance and make you more likely to fall and hurt yourself. Talk to your employer about taking on other job responsibilities during your pregnancy.
If you need to lift something, follow these tips:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at your knees, but keep your back straight and rear end tucked in.
- Use your arms and legs. Lift with your arms (not back) and push up with your legs.
- When possible, lower the weight of the item (for example, break up the contents of one box into two or three smaller boxes)
Standing for long periods of time can also be cause for concern. That's because blood can collect in your legs, which may lead to dizziness, fatigue and back pain. When standing:
- Place one foot on a small foot rest or box.
- Switch feet on the foot rest often throughout the day.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
Computers and desks
Many of today's jobs involve computer use and sitting at a desk for most of the day. Some women who do these jobs may have wrist and hand discomforts, neck and shoulder pains, backaches and eye strains. To help avoid these pains, follow these tips:
- Take short breaks often and walk around your office or building.
- Adjust your chair, keyboard and other office equipment to be more comfortable.
- Use a small pillow or cushion for lower back support.
- Keep your feet elevated by using a footrest.
- Be sure to use the correct hand and arm positions for typing.
- Use a non-reflective glass screen cover on your computer monitor.
- Adjust the computer monitor for brightness and contrast to a setting that is comfortable for your eyes.
Is it safe to travel for work during pregnancy?
Your job may require business travel. While it's safe for most women to travel during pregnancy, talk to your provider before making any travel decisions that will take you far from home. Ask if any health conditions you might have make travel during pregnancy unsafe.
Also, consider the place to where you'll be travelling.
- Be sure to carry a copy of your medical records in case of an emergency.
- Learn more about the kind of medical care that’s available and if your health insurance will cover medical care at your destination
- Find out if the food and water at your destination are safe.
- Ask your health provider if there are any vaccinations you'll need before you go.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reassures women that air travel is safe for most pregnant women. So long as a woman's pregnancy is healthy and free of complications, it's safe for her to travel by air. Most airlines allow women who are up to 36 weeks in their pregnancy to travel, but it's a good idea to double check with your air carrier.
If you're pregnant and plan to travel by air, follow these tips:
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing. You may want to wear support stockings.
- When it's safe to move about the plane's cabin, take a walk up and down the aisle every few hours. This can help improve your circulation and avoid the risk of blood clots.
- Drink plenty of water, but avoid beverages and foods that may cause gas. Gas in your belly expands at high altitudes, making you feel less comfortable.
- Always wear a seat belt when seated to avoid injury in case of turbulence.
When making air travel arrangements, try getting an aisle seat so you don't have to climb over other passengers to go to the bathroom. Also, try sitting towards the front of the plane, where the ride feels smoother.
- If you're experiencing nausea during pregnancy, you may want to take an anti-nausea medication before getting on the plane. Talk to your health provider about a medication that's safe during pregnancy.
- If you have severe discomfort, be sure to alert the flight attendant and contact your provider right away.
If you're pregnant and will travel by car, follow these tips:
- Be sure to wear your seat belt correctly.
- Driving can be tiring for anyone. Try to limit driving to no more than 5-6 hours per day.
Never turn off the air bags if your car has them. Instead, tilt your car seat and move it as far as possible from the dashboard or steering wheel.
- If you are in a crash, get treatment right away to protect yourself and your baby.
- Call your health provider at once if you have contractions, pain in your belly, or blood or fluid leaking from your vagina.
Last reviewed June 2010
Most common questions
What are my rights for maternity leave?
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) employees can take time off from work without pay for pregnancy- and family-related health issues. The act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that you can keep your health insurance benefits during the leave. To qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours during the last 12 months, and worked at a location where the company has 50 or more employees within 75 miles. This time off is in addition to whatever maternity leave your company offers. Ask your company's human resources representative about maternity leave and FMLA.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act says it's unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related health conditions. Women who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same way as other employees with similar abilities or limitations. If you feel you're being discriminated against at work because you're pregnant, contact your company's human resources representative.
When should I tell my boss I'm pregnant?
That's up to you. Some women tell their bosses as soon as they find out they're pregnant. Others wait a while. Whichever you choose, make sure that your boss hears the news from you. You don't want him to hear it from a coworker or as a rumor. If you're having common pregnancy discomforts, like having to go to the bathroom a lot or feeling tired all the time, you should tell him so he understands why you may be acting differently at work.