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Pregnancy and occupational hazards: What you need to know

November 2, 2012
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From MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health

Most women who are pregnant can keep working during their pregnancy. Some women are able to work right up until they are ready to deliver. Others may need to cut back on their hours or stop working before their due date. 

Whether you can work or not depends on your health, the health of the baby, and the type of job you have. Below are some factors that affect your ability to work.

Heavy Lifting

If your job requires heavy lifting, standing, or walking, you may need to work fewer hours each day. You should put less stress on your body the closer you get to your due date.

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 the 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. (This type of radiation is not the same as radiation from computers, TVs, and microwave oven. Non-ionizing radiation is not harmful.)

Ask your employer about any hazards or poisons in your workplace. Ask these questions:

  • Are the levels toxic?
  • Is the workplace ventilated (Is there proper airflow to let the chemicals out)?
  • What is in place to protect workers from hazards?

Carpal Tunnel

If you work with a computer, you may notice numbness or tingling in your hands. This may be carpal tunnel syndrome. The numbness and tingling is caused by the 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 doctor.

Stress

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 are: 

  • Talk about your worries with your partner or a friend.
  • See your health care provider for regular prenantal care.
  • Follow a healthy diet and stay active.
  • Get plenty of sleep each night.
  • Meditate or pray.
  • Ask for help when you need it. If you are having a hard time dealing with stress, talk to your doctor. He may refer you to a counselor or therapist who can help you better manage the stress in your life.

Updated by: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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