REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE
Physical demands (lifting, standing, bending)
Heavy lifting, standing for long periods of time, or bending a lot during pregnancy could increase your chances of miscarriage, preterm birth, or injury during pregnancy. High physical demands at work have also been associated with menstrual disorders, which might reflect reduced fertility. Here, you can learn more about physical factors and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.
What are physical demands?
Physical factors can include:
- Lifting heavy objects (e.g., health care workers moving patients)
- Standing for long periods of time
- Repeatedly bending at the waist
Why should I be concerned about physical demands?
- Normal everyday physical activities aren’t a cause for concern, and moderate exercise during pregnancy with your doctor’s approval can help promote a healthy pregnancy.
- Jobs involving very high physical demands, for example bending at the waist more than 20 times per day or lifting objects more than once every 5 minutes, may increase risks for some adverse birth outcomes:
- We know that prolonged standing or heavy lifting can cause an increased chance of miscarriage or preterm delivery (premature birth).
- Pregnant women are at higher risk of an injury while lifting due to differences in posture, balance, and an inability to hold things close to the body because of her changing size.
- Changes in a pregnant woman’s hormones have an effect on ligaments and joints in the spine (to accommodate the developing baby). These same changes can also make a pregnant woman more prone to injury from lifting heavy objects or patients.
- This is a concern even before a woman “looks” pregnant or before she starts to show.
What jobs commonly involve high physical demands?
Many types of jobs can involve physical factors, including:
- Healthcare workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Construction crews
- Service workers
- Flight attendants
- Childcare providers and teachers
- Farm and greenhouse workers
- Law enforcement officers
What is not known?
- We don’t know what causes most menstrual disorders, miscarriages or preterm births. If your work involves physical labor and you have a menstrual disorder, a miscarriage or a preterm birth, we often can’t tell if it was caused by the physical work from your job or if it was caused by something else.
- For each woman, we don’t know what amount of heavy lifting, prolonged standing, or prolonged bending is safe during pregnancy. It depends partially on each woman’s health, normal physical activity, and stage of pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what level of strenuous physical activity is appropriate for you
What can I do to reduce or eliminate exposure?
- Discuss these recommendations for lifting during pregnancy with your doctor.
- If you are pregnant and working, you may want to reduce or avoid:
- Repeatedly stooping, bending, or squatting
- Lifting heavy objects from the floor or below mid-shin
- Lifting overhead
- Standing for a long time
- If you are pregnant and work in a physically demanding job, you may benefit from sitting down during breaks.
Where can I get more information?
Read the about recommended weight limits for manual lifting during pregnancy at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606868/ and http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(13)00242-1/abstract.
- Page last reviewed: April 20, 2017
- Page last updated: August 15, 2017
- Content source:
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies