Physically Strenuous or Hazardous Work During Pregnancy

Find out which jobs can be too physically strenuous or toxic for women to perform during pregnancy.

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pregnant woman working at a physically strenuous job

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Strenuous work environment

Physically Strenuous or Hazardous Work During Pregnancy

Women are tough and they can do the work of any man, but your baby is not so tough right now. There are some jobs that can be too physically strenuous or toxic for a woman to continue throughout her pregnancy. These include…

  • Work that requires hours of standing: Cooks, nurses, salesclerks, waiters, police officers, and others, have jobs that keep them on their feet all day. This can be difficult for a pregnant woman, but it might be downright dangerous for her unborn baby. Studies have found that long hours of standing during the last half of pregnancy disrupt the flow of blood. Too much standing on the job might increase the risk of the mother developing high blood pressure, as well as the risk of premature birth. That is why women in high-risk pregnancies, who work more than four hours a day on their feet, should switch to a desk job or quit by the 24th week. Those who stand for 30 minutes out of each hour should change jobs or quit by the 32nd week. (Women who are feeling fine on the job and have no medical problems, however, should feel free to continue working.)
  • Jobs that require physical strength: Do you have to lift, push, bend, shove, and load materials all day? If you do, many experts believe you should ask for a job reassignment or quit by the 20th week of pregnancy. If you do this kind of work less intensely or strenuously, you can wait until the 28th week.

    No matter what kind of job you have, you'll soon hear people say, "Put that down; it's too heavy for you." Heavy lifting is a concern during pregnancy, but the term heavy lifting is hard to define. Generally, it's agreed that pregnant women can lift items that weigh 25 pounds or under, all day long without harm. Also, they can occasionally lift items that weigh up to 50 pounds with no problem. This explains why you can carry your toddler and preschooler occasionally, but not constantly. But if your job requires you to lift weights between 25 and 50 pounds or more on a regular basis, you should ask for reassignment or take your leave on this schedule:

    • Leave by the 20th week of pregnancy if you're repetitively lifting weights over 50 pounds.
    • Leave by the 30th week if you are occasionally lifting weights over 50 pounds.
    • Leave by the 34th week if you are repetitively lifting weights between 25 and 50 pounds.

  • Jobs that involve toxic chemicals: The list of jobs that involve dangerous substances is miles long. Consider the artist who works with paint and solvents all day, the dry cleaner who breathes in cleaning fumes, the agricultural or horticultural worker who works with pesticides, the photographer who uses toxic chemicals to develop pictures, the tollbooth attendant who breathes in car and truck exhaust, or the printer who works with lead substances. All these and countless other occupations cause harm to the fetus. Examine your work and substitute dangerous materials for safe ones (perhaps by using water-based rather than lead-based paints). You can avoid the toxic aspects of your work by asking for reassignment or protect yourself by wearing a facemask and using better ventilation. No matter what you do, be sure to talk to your doctor about your job and the dangers of toxic exposure.
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