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Heavy Lifting When Pregnant: Physical Labor and Safety

Women are hardworking and tough, and can accomplish amazing feats with their bodies. However, some tasks and jobs may prove too difficult for pregnant women to continue. Standing too much could cause preterm labor, low birthweight, ligament pain, decreased circulation, muscle strains, and hernias.

Every pregnancy is unique, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about your risks and the appropriate amount of exercise.


Most cases of standing for prolonged periods or lifting during the first trimester will not cause any harm or pose a risk. Due to hormonal changes and the physical labor your body has done, fatigue can set in. This could make it difficult to keep your pre-pregnancy energy levels up.

Every stage of pregnancy is different. There are ups and downs, restrictions and limitations when it comes lifting or strenuous activity. But it is important to listen to your body. When you are tired, rest and hydrate.

No matter what your job is or how active you are, there are some things that you need to remember while pregnant.

Pregnant Should Avoid Standing for Long Periods

Pregnant women can feel strain from the back, legs, and pelvis of flight attendants, cooks, nurses, waiters and police officers, as well as other people who work in shifts.

Standing for long periods of time during pregnancy can disrupt blood flow and increase the risk of premature birth or high blood pressure.

Women with high-risk pregnancies who spend more than four hours per day standing should try to change to a desk job, or take leave, by the 24th week. People who sit for more than 30 minutes per hour should consider changing jobs or taking leave before the 32nd week.

You can continue working if you are healthy and have no pre-existing conditions. To alleviate leg pain, leg aches and swelling, it is recommended that you sit down and raise your legs whenever possible.

Be careful when you are applying for jobs that require physical strength

Do you need to lift, push and bend materials every day? Experts recommend that you ask for a job change or medical leave before the 20th week. You may be able wait until the 28th week if you work less frequently or intensely.

While heavy lifting can be dangerous during pregnancy, what does “heavy lifting” actually mean? It is generally agreed that pregnant women can lift items weighing 25 pounds or less all day without injury.

They can sometimes lift up to 50 lbs without any difficulty.

If your job requires that you lift weights between 25-50 pounds and more often, you might consider resigning or taking a look at the leave schedule:

  • If you lift weights of more than 50 pounds regularly, take leave before week 20.
  • If you lift more than 50 pounds, take leave by week 30.
  • You can take leave from work by week 34 if your weight is between 25 and 50 pounds.

Also, your center of gravity shifts as your belly expands, especially during your third trimester. Even if you are able to lift heavy objects with your body, you could fall if you don’t do it correctly.

Move up and down if you do computer work or desk work.

However, sitting too long can reduce blood flow and make pregnant women more susceptible to blood clots. Our body’s natural defense against bleeding during childbirth is thicker blood. Our growing uterus puts additional pressure on our pelvic floor, decreasing blood flow towards the legs.

Unless your doctor has ordered you to be on bed rest, get up and walk for at least five minutes every hour. Regular exercise during pregnancy improves your overall health, and lowers your risk of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.

Women worry about radiation exposure from sitting all day in front of a computer screen. Some studies in the 1980s suggested that VDTs could be linked to problem pregnancies.

The story was picked up by the media, and it continues to be covered today. Since then, more studies have been done on the effects of working in front a computer screen as well as congenital disabilities and miscarriages. There seems to be no correlation between the two. A computer emits less radiation than sunlight, but it still emits more.

If you’re still concerned about radiation from your computer you can take steps to feel better.

  • Reduce the time spent in front of your computer when you’re not using it.
  • Place an electrically conductive filter on top of the screen.
  • Limit screen time at your home.

You are more at risk if you sit all day long at a computer. You might experience strain in your back, eye, neck, wrist, arm or wrist if you are working at a computer terminal.

You should take frequent breaks and find reasons to get out of your house.

Stretching exercises can be done while you are sitting at your computer. This will prevent your muscles from cramping.

  • Rotate your ankles.
  • Lift your shoulders back and forth.
  • Move your head forward and backward.
  • Bend forward towards your waist and relax your back muscles.
  • Stand tall and extend your arms out.
  • Sit on an exercise ball, instead of a chair.

Additional Workplace Risks

Some jobs can expose pregnant women to chemicals or toxins that could pose a danger to their baby.

Pregnant Work in Manufacturing

You need to know the chemicals that you are exposed each day to ensure your safety at work. Your employer must provide this information to you. You are entitled to it by law. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists several substances that pregnant women should avoid, as they can negatively affect the development of their baby.

  • Aluminum
  • Dimethyl
  • sulfoxide
  • Alkylating agents
  • Ethylene oxide
  • ArsenicLead
  • Benzene
  • Lithium
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Organic mercury compounds
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons
  • Polychlorinated bephenyls

Your boss, union representative or manager might be able help you assess whether you are at risk. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health can provide useful information. You can request a transfer or early departure if your job is threatening your baby’s health.

Pregnant Working in Healthcare

As a healthcare professional, you are constantly in contact with diseases and germs. This was a risk that you took when you started your career. However, if you are pregnant, you might need to assess your exposure and determine what is safe for your baby.

The fetus can be exposed to toxic chemicals for equipment sterilization, radiation treatment, and anesthesia gases.

Talk to your doctor about concerns. You can ask for a reassignment to a more secure position or take an early leave of absent if you are concerned about your baby’s health.

Exercise While Pregnant

During pregnancy, it is recommended to exercise, including light aerobics and gentle weight training. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women exercise at least three to five times per week. They also state that exercise is good for their health during pregnancy, as well as postpartum.

Strength training may require you to reduce your weight or perform fewer reps. You may also need to be able to sit for certain exercises during pregnancy, as your center of gravity shifts.

Gentle exercise can reduce lower back pain, increase blood circulation, improve mood, sleep better and decrease the risk of gestational diabetes, preterm births, preeclampsia and preeclampsia.

Do not lift heavy objects, lie on your stomach in third trimester or do any new, difficult yoga poses that may cause you to lose balance.

Talk to your doctor about any plans for exercise and look into videos and classes that are specifically geared towards pregnant women.


  • Lifting During Pregnancy: Risks and Safe Techniques (americanpregnancy.org)
  • Physical Demands (lifting, standing, bending) – Reproductive Health | NIOSH | CDC
  • Pregnancy: What to do and what not to do – Mayo Clinic
  • CDC
  • Lifting Weights During Pregnancy (verywellfamily.com)

Next: Desk job


L. Elizabeth Forry

L. Elizabeth Forry, an Early Childhood Educator, has 15 years of classroom experience. She is also the mother of two crazy and creative boys.

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