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Ergonomic Practices During Pregnancy

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Pregnant woman. Pregnancy and Workplace Safety

More than half of all women work outside the home, with many working late into their pregnancies and returning to work less than three months after giving birth. While much attention has been paid to the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, practicing good ergonomics will provide comfort and support a woman’s health throughout the duration of her pregnancy. Decreasing the ergonomic risk factor by implementing reasonable accommodations are essential to make the workplace safe and comfortable for expecting moms.

Ergonomic Hazards for Expecting Employees

For any employee, sitting 8-10 hours a day behind a desk or in front of a computer screen can lead to back and neck injuries, stiff muscles and joints, poor circulation, worker’s fatigue, and more. However pregnant women face even more challenges, as pregnancy alters the shape of the body and the way women interact with their workspace. For example, a growing abdomen alone causes backaches, progressive posture problems, and reduced agility and coordination. Similarly, to accommodate the growing fetus, joints in the spine become less stable, while hormonal changes affect ligaments and increase the risk of injury.

As pregnancy progresses, women must lift items further away from their bodies, having to reach 15-20 inches to access their workstation. Since the growing fetus alters the center of gravity, pregnant women are also more susceptible to falling. In addition to affecting balance, lifting tasks, and posture, studies suggest that there is a link between ergonomic stressors and unfavorable pregnancy results. Things to avoid are standing for long periods of time, working long hours, and repetitive lifting.

Pregnancy and Lower Back Pain

Expecting mothers often develop a curvature in the lower back (also known as an accentuated lumbar lordosis) due to weight gained in the lower abdomen. In fact, each pound a woman puts on during pregnancy can creative five extra pounds of pressure on the hips, knees, and lumbar spinal joints. Moreover, elevated hormone levels (Estrogen and Relaxin) lead to increased ligament laxity, predisposing pregnant women to joint instability and an increased risk of strains and sprains.

Ergonomic Accommodations for Pregnant Workers

To accommodate pregnant women, both employers and expecting moms themselves are advised to take make ergonomic friendly workplace modifications. Here are some expert tips to ensure the safety and comfort of working women during pregnancy.

Advice for Pregnant Employees

  • Neutral posture brings daily comfort: elbows level with the keyboard so your shoulders are relaxed, feet flat and supported, avoid awkward postures

  • Take frequent breaks from sitting, walking and stretching to increase circulation in your legs and feet, which are prone to swelling and possible blood clots during pregnancy

  • Invest in an adjustable ergonomic office chair with excellent lumbar support and well cushioned seat to support growing body and possible sensitive tailbone, or add a thin lumbar pillow for extra support and comfort to existing chair

  • For stable posture comfort, feet flat on floor or supported with a footrest. Use a footrest to reduce swelling and reduce pressure on the joints

  • To accommodate your growing abdomen and the increasing curve in your spine, adjust the height of your monitor and desk

  • Use a softer wrist rest with your keyboard to prevent the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome caused by increased fluid in the joints during pregnancy

  • Avoid heavy lifting (10-25 lbs or more) and do not lift items directly from the ground

  • The ability to go from sitting to standing increases oxygen intake and circulation. Invest in a sit/stand desk or a Sit Stand Ergo Unit

allowing you to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the workday; this very change of position is a mild form of exercise which helps prevent stiffness, swelling, and varicose veins

  • Know your rights: Study the laws pertaining to the treatment of pregnant employees in your state and don’t hesitate to ask your employer for special accommodations

Advice for Employers

Protect pregnant employees by:

  • Providing adjustable ergonomic office furniture.

  • An ergonomic evaluation will help address poor habits and necessary changes for healthier working environment and increased productivity throughout pregnancy and beyond.

  • Installing foot rests if needed

  • Being flexible with work schedules

  • Assigning fewer physical tasks

  • Limiting standing time on the job

  • Allowing for more frequent short breaks

  • Removing obstacles from under desk

  • Providing work areas with ample space for moving around

Author Byline

Karen Burke is the President and Founder of Kare Products. Karen has over 30 years of expertise creating ergonomic furniture that helps avoid injury and promotes health for all types of discomfort and body sizes.

Image: José Manuel Ríos Valiente/Flickr.