While our bodies go through lots of changes during pregnancy, many women feel they can’t change their everyday routine. Sure, they may work out a little less rigorously (and should, depending on their stage of pregnancy and pre-pregnancy fitness level), but many keep up with house chores, planning around social activities, raising other kids, and of course, working.
According to statistics from the United States Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, 57% of women participate in the labor force while a surprising 70% of women with children under age 18 hold down jobs. It can be much easier to bounce back into a job, perhaps after taking employer-paid maternity leave, if you have a job to begin with while you’re pregnant. But what sorts of jobs are safe to continue doing while you’re pregnant? Are there any limitations? What about when you’re in your second or third trimester?
We answer these questions and more below.
What type of work is safe during pregnancy?
If you’re a fan of pop music, you probably know who Beyoncé is. The famous singer and dancer posted an epic Instagram photo while she was carrying twins this year, and her devoted fans followed her throughout her entire pregnancy. You’ve probably also heard that she ended up canceling her performance at Coachella, a popular festival, in April 2017, citing advice from her doctor to “keep to a less rigorous schedule in the coming months.”
Most women, however, can continue to work up to the end of their pregnancy. If they are already conditioned to do their job, chances are there won’t be any problems continuing on as normal. Activity typically isn’t restricted during pregnancy unless there are some complications, such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure), if they have a history of pre-term births, or they are carrying twins. Basically, anyone who has been classified by their doctor as having a high-risk pregnancy will want to be careful at work, during exercise, and while traveling.
Another exception is if women are in a job where they normally lift heavy objects or do a lot of physical labor. If you are dizzy or fatigued, both common pregnancy symptoms, that can make it even more dangerous when you add weighted movements to the mix. Your center of gravity also changes when you become pregnant, so it’s harder to keep your balance — making slips and trips in the workplace around possibly dangerous machinery even more scary.
Bottom line, if you work your body too hard while pregnant, you run the risk of having a pre-term birth, which come with their own set of potential issues (an increased chance of baby having brain damage, like cerebral palsy). Working at night or working long hours also have been linked to miscarriages, pre-term birth, and menstrual disorders. Finally, stress from work or any other source also affects you and the baby, so make sure to confide in your partner and friends to vent, get plenty of rest, and follow a healthy, active lifestyle.
See also: Surprising Body Changes During Pregnancy
What should I do to make work easier while pregnant?
The Stanford Children’s Health Network provides some tips for working soon-to-be moms who are looking to keep to their daily activities as long as possible.
If you work a desk job: Women can develop carpal tunnel syndrome because of fluid buildup during pregnancy, which can make typing at a keyboard difficult. Additionally, your growing baby may make your posture change, so watch out for any neck, shoulder, or back strain while sitting. It’s a good idea to use a pillow for lower back support, use a wrist rest for your keyboard and mouse, and take frequent walking breaks to get the blood flowing (this will also help reduce swelling).
If you work a job where you stand most of the day: Nurses, postal workers, and restaurant workers may have a difficult time during pregnancy, particularly during later stages as standing for long periods of time can cause back and leg pain. Standing often can also reduce blood flow, which can make baby grow a little more slowly. Make sure you’re wearing good, comfortable shoes, and take frequent sitting breaks where you try to put your feet up as often as possible.
If you work a heavy-labor job: As mentioned earlier, heavy-labor work can exacerbate the dizziness and fatigue symptoms often experienced during pregnancy, and it’s easier to slip and fall while pregnant because gravity is working against you. Most pregnant women also should lift objects no heavier than 20 pounds. Make sure you check with your doctor on if your work is appropriate to continue.
If you work around chemicals: Women who work around chemicals, radiation, heavy metals, gases, or biological agents need to be extra careful during pregnancy. These sort of fields include hair stylists (who use colorants), people who administer chemotherapy drugs, and anyone exposed to lead, like women who work at toll booths or in the ceramic or glass-making arts, for example. Protective clothing may be required; any hazardous agents that get into the mother’s bloodstream can be passed along to baby.
If you travel a lot for work: Flying can be fun when you’re a child … not so much when you’re with child. Not only are the seats not big enough to make you feel very comfortable, but you’ll likely have to get up often to use the restroom. Air travel is not recommended after 36 weeks of pregnancy; the middle of your pregnancy (between weeks 14 and 28) is often deemed the best time to travel by plane because some of your early pregnancy symptoms have subsided. Make sure if you do travel to wear your seatbelt below your belly, eat smaller meals, and get up-to-date on any vaccinations you may need. Remember, any disease you get as a mom is going to most likely affect baby, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
At what point in my pregnancy should I stop working?
That depends. Your doctor will have the best advice for you based on the risks involved in your pregnancy and what type of work you do. Whether or not you can continue to work while pregnant is reliant on your health, your baby’s health, and the type of job you do.
Although working through pregnancy was not common 50 years ago (many women quit their jobs because of employment policies and social values), it’s incredibly common today. In fact, nearly 80% of pregnant women worked through their third trimester by the year 1990.
If you are hospitalized at any point during your pregnancy, however, it’s likely to affect how you do your job. Bed rest also can cause muscular and cardiovascular deconditioning, which makes recovering after birth — and getting back to work — take that much longer.
When’s the best time to return to work after I give birth?
Again, that really depends, and a lot of it is up to you. For women who gave birth in the past 12 months, 62% were actively in the labor force. There’s nothing wrong with staying home to take care of your new baby, just like there’s nothing wrong with a working mom who wants to get back to the office and help provide for her family another way.
Have you recently given birth and returned to work? What was your experience like working while pregnant? Share with us in the comments!