Physical Job Demands– Reproductive Health

Physical demands at work could increase your chances of miscarriage, preterm birth, or injury during pregnancy. Learn more about reducing physical factors for a healthier pregnancy.

What are physical demands?

Physical factors can include:

  • Lifting heavy objects (e.g., waitress carrying a tray or food to customers)
  • Standing for long periods of time
  • Repeatedly bending at the waist

Why should I worry about physical demands?

Everyday physical activities aren’t a cause for concern. In fact, moderate exercise during pregnancy with your doctor’s approval can help promote a healthy pregnancy. However, physical demands can put some workers at risk.

  • High physical demands, like those listed above, may increase risks for adverse birth outcomes.
  • Prolonged standing or heavy lifting can cause an increased chance of miscarriage or preterm delivery (premature birth).
  • Changes in a pregnant woman’s hormones impact ligaments and joints in the spine to accommodate the developing baby. These changes can make a pregnant woman more prone to musculoskeletal injury from physical job demands. This can happen even before she “looks” pregnant or starts to show.
  • During late pregnancy, changes in body size and body weight can impact balance. These changes also impact postures used to perform physical demands at work. Changes in balance and posture may increase the risk of falls and musculoskeletal injury.
  • Physical demands at work may be linked with menstrual disorders, which might reduce fertility.

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
  • Firefighters
  • 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 one of these events occurs, we often can’t tell if the cause was job-related physical labor or something else.
  • We don’t know what amount of heavy lifting, prolonged standing, or bending is safe for each pregnant woman. It depends partially on each woman’s health, physical fitness level, 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 pregnancyimage icon with your doctor. (Infografía en españolimage icon)
  • If you are pregnant and working, you may want to reduce or avoid:
    • Stooping, bending, or squatting often
    • Lifting heavy objects from the floor or any location that requires you to bend or reach
    • Lifting overhead or reaching
    • Standing for 3 hours or more
  • 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?

View an infographic on provisional weight limits for lifting during pregnancy. (en español)

Read about provisional recommended weight limits for manual lifting during pregnancy and clinical guidelines for occupational lifting in pregnancy.