Working during a healthy pregnancy is usually safe. However, some jobs can pose certain risks and demands. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
High levels of stress may contribute to low birth weight and preterm birth. For your own health, as well as the health of your baby, take steps to limit stress at work and at home:
- Make a list of your biggest stressors. Divide them into two sections-ones you can do something about, and ones you cannot.
- Make a plan for the ones you can do something about. Are there small changes you could make? Who could help you? Can you talk to your supervisor about these issues?
- Make a plan for coping with the ones you cannot change. If you cannot change the situation, can you change your attitude or approach to it?
- Build stress reducers into your day. These may include exercise, meditation, stretching, humour, art, fresh air, massage, or conversation.
If you are worried about your stress levels, talk to your prenatal caregiver and/or contact your Employee Assistance Plan (if available). Other people that may be able to help are:
- Your healthcare provider
- The human resources department at your workplace
- An occupational health nurse
- Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, toll-free at 1-866-415-8690 or visit their website
If you have concerns about pregnancy discrimination and haven’t been able to solve them by speaking to your manager, supervisor, or human resources representative, contact the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission confidential inquiry lines at:
Toll-free in Alberta call 310-0000 for the nearest location to your area
Standing and sitting
Standing for over four hours without a break can affect the blood flow to your baby. If your job requires you to stand for long periods of time:
- use a stool
- take breaks (short break every two hours)
- ask your employer to give you other tasks so that you can sit or walk
- wear comfortable shoes with a lower heel
- use a foot-stool and put one foot on the foot-stool and shift weight from leg to leg
- change positions or use a rocking movement
Sitting for over four hours can reduce blood flow and increase fluid in your legs and feet. If your job involves a lot of sitting:
- take short breaks to stretch or walk whenever possible
- keep a footstool at your desk to change the position of your feet from time to time
- put a cushion behind your lower back for extra support
- change positions as often as possible
- avoid crossing your legs
- use proper posture
- use a harder straight-backed chair during later stages of pregnancy
Shift work and long hours
Some studies suggest that women who work changing shifts and long hours may be at a higher risk for preterm labour, low-birth weight or miscarriage. The risk is greater if shift work and long hours are combined with other risk factors like hours of standing or high levels of noise.
If you are working long hours:
- ask for extra breaks
- take time to stretch if you have been sitting
- take time to rest if you have been standing
- limit overtime as much as possible
If you have to work shifts, ask that they be rotated forward (for example, moving from morning shifts to afternoons to nights). This is less tiring than rotating backward (for example, moving from nights to afternoons to mornings). Talk to your supervisor about the possibility of working straight day shifts. Take a short break every two hours.
Repetitive hand movement
Repetitive hand movement (like spending hours working on a cash register or computer) can lead to repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Pregnant women may be at higher risk to develop RSI and CTS. To lower your risk:
- change positions as often as possible
- change repetitive tasks as often as possible
- position your elbows at a 90 degree angle when working at a computer, and keep your wrists straight. You may need to request an adjustable keyboard tray
- see a doctor if you have tingling, pain, numbness or cramping in your arms, wrists or hands
Lifting and physically demanding work
Women who work in physically demanding jobs need to take special care to protect themselves and their baby. If your work is physically demanding:
- minimize heavy lifting. If possible, do not lift more than 23 kg (50 lbs)
- keep repetitive lifting to less than 11 kg (25 lbs) after 24 weeks of pregnancy. If you do a lot of lifting at work, talk to your doctor or midwife about lifting techniques and maximum loads
- minimize repetitive stooping and bending. If you do a lot of stooping or bending at work, talk to your doctor or midwife about safe limits
- minimize repetitive climbing. This includes ladders, poles or stairs. If you do a lot of climbing at work, talk to your doctor or midwife about safe limits
High noise levels
High noise levels (over 90 decibels – e.g. lawnmowers and some machinery) may be linked to low birth weight, especially when combined with other things like hours of standing. If you are working with high noise levels, talk to your healthcare provider or Human Resources representative.
Chemicals and hazardous substances
Some chemicals and substances can increase your risk of miscarriage or having a baby with a birth defect. If you work around chemicals or hazardous substances:
- find out about the chemicals or substances you are exposed to. You can do this by checking the WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) data sheets at your workplace or by talking to your Occupational Health and Safety representative
- avoid any chemicals that you do not need to be exposed to
- use protective clothing (for example, gloves, mask)
- work in a well-ventilated area
- follow recommended guidelines
In some cases, you may need to be temporarily assigned to another position while you are pregnant. If you have concerns, or if you have symptoms that you are worried about, talk to your doctor or midwife.
Most pregnant women who work in areas where radiation is used are safe because safety standards today are very high. In addition to following all guidelines:
- avoid contact with patients who are being treated with radioactive isotopes
- avoid holding patients during x-rays
Some women are concerned about radiation from computer screens. There is no evidence to suggest this will harm your baby.
Pregnancy discrimination means being treated differently because you are pregnant. The law protects you from this. You cannot be fired, demoted, put on forced leave, or excluded from professional opportunities (like projects, contracts, trips, conferences) just because you are pregnant. You also have the right to return to your former position or an equivalent after maternity leave. If you have concerns about pregnancy discrimination and have not been able to solve them by speaking to your manager, supervisor, or human resources representative, contact the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission and speak to an intake officer about your complaint.
Who can I contact for help?
If you have concerns about your workplace environment, there are several ways to get help. The first step is to talk to your supervisor:
- explain your concern
- back up your concerns by showing your supervisor this or a note from your doctor
- offer some possible solutions and ask for other ideas
- be flexible and willing to negotiate
Here are other people who may be able to help:
- your healthcare provider
- your human resources department
- an occupational health nurse
- The Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission
- Alberta Occupational Health and Safety: toll-free at 1-866-415-8690
Your rights entitlements and responsibilities are protected by law. This information is outlined in a pamphlet by the Albert Human Rights and Citizenship Commission called Becoming a Parent in Alberta.