Tommy's PregnancyHub

Staying healthy at work during pregnancy

Many pregnant people continue doing active and demanding jobs until close to the birth. But every job, and every pregnancy, is different.

The information on this page is for you if you’re carrying the baby and are an ‘employee’ of your organisation. To find out whether you are defined as an employee or another type of worker, the ACAS website can help you work out your employee status

Pregnancy is not a health condition. Many people continue doing active and demanding jobs until close to the birth. But every person – and every pregnancy – is different. Each job is different too: a tree surgeon, healthcare assistant or lab technician will encounter more physical risks than an office worker. Staying healthy at work means looking at all these factors, weighing up the risks and seeing what, if anything, needs to change.

Common health issues during pregnancy

Here are some of the more common issues that affect people during pregnancy:

  • bladder and bowel problems such as constipation, piles (haemorrhoids), needing to wee a lot or having accidents
  • dental problems especially bleeding gums
  • feeling tired, faint or hot
  • headaches
  • high blood pressure 
  • indigestion and heartburn
  • leg problems including cramp, varicose veins, swollen legs or ankles and deep-vein thrombosis
  • mental health issues such as anxiety or low mood
  • muscle and joint pains backache or pelvic pain
  • itching
  • nausea and sickness – in the mornings, or all the time.

Try thinking about your job and what you do on a daily basis. Which of these would cause the biggest difficulties and how could you overcome them?

Tip

If you have a serious headache, visual disturbances such as flashing lights, pain below your ribs, vomiting or sudden swelling of your face, hands, feet or ankles, call your midwife immediately as it could be a sign of pre-eclampsia.

Reducing work-related risks

By law, all employers must do a general risk assessment to understand the risks to the health and safety of all its employees (including risks to women of childbearing age and anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding). They then need to take appropriate, sensible action to reduce, remove or control these risks. If they employ more than 5 people, they need to write this down and share it with employees. 

Employers also have other legal obligations. As soon as you tell your employer (in writing) that you are pregnant (or if you have been pregnant in the past 6 months, or are breastfeeding), they must revisit that general assessment and address any risks to you that they can. 

Many organisations have moved to working from home due to Covid-19. Your employer still has a responsibility to protect your health and wellbeing, even when working remotely. Looking at your home working environment should be part of your risk assessment. 

If there is a risk to you, your employer must remove it – by adjusting your working conditions or offering other work for the same pay and conditions. For example, if you need to take frequent toilet breaks but there is no access to toilets, they need to find you a role where you will have access. 

If you need adjustments to your job because of your pregnancy, your employer shouldn’t ask you to go on sick leave. If they can’t find you any suitable alternative work, they must suspend you on full pay. If they don’t do this, it could be pregnancy discrimination.

Did you know?

If you are pregnant, your employer must provide a suitable place for you to rest, including to lie down, if you want to.

Each of us has our own strengths, needs and existing health conditions, and different roles require different strengths. Risk factors depend on your individual circumstances, but there are some risks that are very common. 

Examples of common risks include:

  • Lifting and carrying heavy objects such as carrying stock on delivery day.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time or at workstations that do not support good posture.
  • Having potential contact with an infection such as Covid-19.
  • Contact with harmful substances including lead, pesticides, mercury, lead or radioactive materials.
  • The threat of violence for example, when working in public-facing roles or supporting vulnerable people with challenging behaviour.
  • Working conditions including work-related stress, fatigue, long working hours, shift work and access to food and drink.
  • Environmental factors such as working at height, working alone, working at high or low temperatures.
  • Travel. If your work involves travel, you may be happy to continue through your pregnancy. However, if travel causes any symptoms such as making you overtired, then this becomes a risk and should be treated like any other.

Health and sick leave during pregnancy

Your health is a priority during pregnancy – both for you and your baby. There are some specific conditions related to pregnancy that could affect you at work.

If you have to take sick leave, your employer should record any pregnancy-related illness separately from other illnesses. If you’re off sick within 4 weeks of your due date and the cause is at least partly pregnancy-related, your maternity leave is triggered. After that, you won’t be entitled to sick pay but may be entitled to maternity pay.

Tips for working safely during pregnancy:

  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Stretch your legs every couple of hours.
  • It will depend on your job but try to put your feet up if they’re swollen and uncomfortable. You could use a footrest or a box – anything that feels comfortable.
  • Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.
  • Take a healthy packed lunch and snacks. This will stop you from eating unhealthy snacks at work.
  • Ask someone else to lift anything heavy at work.

Working long hours during pregnancy

It is unclear whether working very long hours during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage or premature birth. Evidence shows there may be a small increase in risk. However, it is not enough to make it compulsory for employers to reduce working hours to below 40 hours per week.

If you feel that working long hours is causing you physical or mental harm during your pregnancy, talk to your midwife or GP. They can advise you on whether you’re doing too much and how you can approach it with your employer.

  1. NHS. Common symptoms in pregnancy. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms Accessed: 15/01/21
  2. Equality and Human Rights Commission. During pregnancy Health and Safety https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/help-and-support-employees/faqs-employees/during-2 Accessed: 9/1/21
  3. Health and Safety Executive. Managing risks and risk assessment at work https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/index.htm Accessed: 9/1/21
  4. Health and Safety Executive. https://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/employer/rest-breastfeeding-at-work.htm  Accessed: 15/01/21
  5. Equality and Human Rights Commission. During pregnancy Health and Safety https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/help-and-support-employees/faqs-employees/during-2 Accessed: 9/1/21
  6. Health and Safety Executive. https://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/faqs.htm Accessed: 9/1/21
  7. ACAS. Managing your employee's maternity leave and pay. Available at: https://www.acas.org.uk/managing-your-employees-maternity-leave-and-pay/if-theyre-ill-or-having-a-difficult-pregnancy Accessed: 15/01/21
  8. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2019. The impact of occupational shift work and working hours during pregnancy on health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Chenxi Cai, et al.
Review dates
Last reviewed: 11 June 2021
Next review: 11 June 2024