Heavy Lifting When Pregnant: Physical Labor and Safety

Updated: December 19, 2021
How much can you lift in each trimester of pregnancy? What physically demanding jobs are safe to do? Our experts have the answers.
pregnant woman working at a physically strenuous job

In this article, you will find:

Strenuous work environment

Women are tough and hard working, and their bodies can perform amazing feats; however, some jobs and tasks may be too physically strenuous for some pregnant women to continue. Too much lifting and standing could lead to preterm labor, low birth weight, ligament pain, decreased blood flow, and muscle strains like hernias.

Each pregnancy is different, so you will need to work with your health care provider to determine your risks and appropriate level of physical activity.

Physically Strenuous or Hazardous Work During Pregnancy

In most cases, standing for long periods and lifting in the first trimester are unlikely to cause any damage or be considered a risk. However, due to hormonal changes and the hard work your body is performing, fatigue may set in, making it challenging to maintain your pre-pregnancy stamina.

Each stage of pregnancy has its ups and downs and restrictions when it comes to lifting and strenuous activity., but it is essential to listen to your body. Rest when tired and maintain hydration when working or working out.

Regardless of your job or current exercise regime, there are a few things to keep in mind while pregnant and situations you should avoid or decrease when possible.

Avoid Long Periods of Standing While Pregnant

Cooks, nurses, flight attendants, sales clerks, waiters, police officers, teachers, and jobs that keep people on their feet all day can cause strain on a pregnant woman’s back and legs.

Long hours of standing during the last half of pregnancy disrupt blood flow, and standing on the job might create an increased risk of the mother developing high blood pressure and premature birth.

Women in high-risk pregnancies, who work more than four hours a day on their feet, should attempt to switch to a desk job or take leave by the 24th week. Those who stand for 30 minutes out of each hour should change jobs or take leave by the 32nd week.

If you have no health problems or pre-existing problems and are experiencing a healthy pregnancy, there is no need to stop working, and, in many cases, you can work until your due date. However, it is advisable to sit and elevate your legs when possible to relieve any back pain, leg aches, and swollen legs or ankles.

Use Caution in 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 take medical leave by the 20th week of pregnancy. If you do this kind of work less intensely or only occasionally, you may be able to wait until the 28th week.

Heavy lifting is a concern during pregnancy, but what exactly does “heavy lifting” mean? 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, so don’t feel as if you can’t pick up and hold your older child unless your doctor has explicitly told you not to.

However, if your job requires you to lift weights between 25 and 50 pounds or more regularly, you should ask for reassignment or consider the leave schedule here:

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

It is also important to note that your center of gravity will shift as your belly extends, especially in your third trimester. This means that even if you can physically lift heavy objects, doing so could cause you to fall if not done correctly.

Get Up and Move if you Do Desk or Computer Work

Computer Work

On the flip side, too much sitting can decrease blood flow and pregnant women are more prone to blood clots. Thicker blood is our body’s natural defense against blood loss during delivery. Secondly, our growing uterus places additional pressure on the pelvic floor, decreasing blood flow to the legs.

Unless you are on absolute bed rest by your doctor, try to get up every hour and walk around for five minutes. Regular exercise while pregnant improves your overall health and decreases the risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.

Some women worry about the effects of radiation from sitting in front of a screen all day. In the 1980s, certain studies suggested linking video display terminals (VDTs) and problem pregnancies.

The media picked up the story, and it persists today. But since that time, additional studies have been conducted on working in front of a computer screen and congenital disabilities and miscarriages. So far, there seems to be no relationship between the two. The level of radiation emitted from a computer is less than the level you receive from sunshine.

However, if you are still worried about radiation from your computer, you can take some steps to make yourself feel better.

  • Reduce the amount of time you spend in front of the screen when you are not actively using the computer.
  • Put a grounded electrically conductive filter over the screen.
  • Avoid additional screen time at home.

Additional risk from using a computer all day comes from the physical strain of sitting. For example, if you work at a computer terminal, you might be prone to eye, neck, wrist, arm, and back strain, especially during pregnancy.

To avoid these problems, you should take frequent breaks; find excuses to walk around every once in a while (frequent trips to the bathroom are the perfect cover).

While sitting at your desk, Try stretching exercises to keep your muscles from cramping.

  • Rotate your ankles.
  • Shrug your shoulders up, back, and down.
  • Roll your head forward and around.
  • Bend forward at your waist, tense your back muscles and relax.
  • Sit up tall and throw your shoulders back.
  • Try sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair

Additional Workplace Risks

In addition to long hours of standing or heavy lifting, some jobs expose pregnant women to chemicals and toxins that could be dangerous to the developing baby.

Working in Manufacturing While Pregnant

To judge your safety on the job, you need to know what chemicals you are exposed to each day. You have the right to this information by law, and your employer is obliged to tell you. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists several substances pregnant women should avoid because they can adversely affect their baby’s development.

  • Aluminum
  • Dimethyl
  • sulfoxide
  • Alkylating agents
  • Ethylene oxide
  • ArsenicLead
  • Benzene
  • Lithium
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Organic mercury compounds
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls

Your boss or union representative might be able to help you determine if you are at risk in your present position. You can also get helpful information from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. If you discover that your job might endanger your baby’s health, you can request a transfer to another position or take an early leave if financially possible.

Working in Health Care While Pregnant

Working in the healthcare industry as a doctor, nurse, dentist, veterinarian, lab or diagnostic technician, etc., puts you in constant contact with germs and diseases. While this was a risk you took on when entering the career, now that you're pregnant, you may needed assess your exposure to determine what is safe for you and your baby.

Exposure to certain toxic chemicals used for sterilization of equipment, anesthesia gases, radiation used for diagnostic and treatment purposes, and infections can be harmful to the fetus.

Take a look at what you are exposed to daily and talk to your doctor about any concerns. If you're worried about the health of your baby, ask to be reassigned to a safer position or consider taking an early leave of absence.

Exercising While Pregnant

Exercise

In most instances, exercising, including light aerobic and gentle weight training, is encouraged during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a regular exercise routine, three to five times a week, and states exercise is beneficial to a women’s health pre-pregnancy, while pregnant, and during the postpartum period.

If strength training, you may need to decrease your weight limits or the number of reps you perform; you may also have to sit for specific exercises as your pregnancy progresses since your center of gravity shifts.

Gentle exercise can relieve lower back pain, increase blood flow, increase your mood, help you sleep better, decrease the risk of preterm birth, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.

Avoid using heavy weights, lying on your back in your third trimester, or performing new and tricky yoga poses that could cause you to lose your balance.

Discuss any exercise plans with your doctor and seek out classes and videos geared specifically towards pregnancy exercises to reduce risk.

Resources