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Working during pregnancy

Josephine R Fowler, MD, MSc
Larry Culpepper, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Charles J Lockwood, MD, MHCM
Deputy Editor
Kristen Eckler, MD, FACOG


Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicate that the employment rate among women age 15 to 64 years is 63 percent worldwide [1]. In the United States, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 58.1 percent of women age ≥16 years were in the labor force in 2011 [2]. Thus, issues about working during pregnancy often arise. This topic will address several common concerns of women who want to work or have to work during pregnancy.


Pregnancy is associated with a wide variety of physical, functional, and even emotional changes. (See "Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of early pregnancy".)

Two common discomforts of early pregnancy that could affect a woman’s ability to perform her job include nausea and vomiting and fatigue. In particular, nausea and/or vomiting can be provoked by workplace odors or restrictions around eating [3]. These problems can usually be managed by medication, taking a brief break, snacking, as needed, and scheduling the most demanding work for times when the woman tends to feel less nauseous, if possible. However, sometimes a short-term absence from work is required.

Nausea and vomiting and fatigue generally improve during the second trimester. However, by the end of the second trimester and continuing through term, physical and physiologic changes may bring on additional discomforts such as heartburn, back pain, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and physical discomfort from the enlarging uterus. Because of the normal physiological demands of the third trimester, women may have difficulty coping with excessive work demands, such as long working hours (eg, >40 hours/week), shift work, prolonged standing (eg, >4 hours/day), heavy physical work, and heavy lifting [4].

Ideally, the woman and her employer will be able to make reasonable adjustments to deal with these discomforts in the workplace. Simple precautions that can help reduce excessive fatigue and potentially reduce the risk of pregnancy complications include modifying shift times and tasks; minimizing lifting, bending, and prolonged standing; using proper lifting techniques; taking regular breaks every few hours and a longer break after five hours; and drinking plenty of fluids [5-11]. However, lost work time and interruptions in workflow may be necessary.


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