By Tan Yi Lin
Given the sedentary nature of jobs nowadays, it is common for most of us to be deskbound for a good part of the working day and thus cocooned within the air-conditioned comfort of the office.
This inevitably leads us to assume that we work in a fairly safe environment, sheltered from environmental factors such as heat and rain, as well as strenuous physical labour.
However, this does not mean workplace risks do not exist, especially for a pregnant employee?
“The majority of pregnant women will go through pregnancy without any problems at work. In fact, most mothers will work up till term, or even right to the point of labour!”, says Dr Tan Eng Kien, a Consultant at the NUH Women’s Centre. “However, that is not to say that there are no workplace hazards that require a risk assessment for pregnant mums.”
Dr Tan shares on the potential discomforts and risks which all pregnant women should be vigilant in looking out for in the workplace.
To Stand Or To Sit?
With a burgeoning tummy that is continuously growing, pregnant employees may find that sitting at the desk may not necessarily offer more comfort than standing. Pregnancy affects your posture and you may have to sit at an awkward position at your workstation, which may not be designed to accommodate a heavily pregnant figure. Remaining inactive for prolonged periods may also lead to swollen legs and an aching back.
Pregnant mums whose jobs require constant typing may also experience painful wrists, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr Tan explains, “Carpal tunnel is a small tunnel containing nerves to the hand muscles. Pregnancy is usually associated with mild swelling due to the build-up of fluid, which can press on the carpal tunnel, causing pain and discomfort while typing.”
To minimize such discomforts during pregnancy, employees may wish to alternate between standing and sitting, take short breaks, or wear wrist support if they experience pain and discomfort in their wrists.
Constant exposure to viruses is a common cause for concern among pregnant women. Women who work in clinics, hospitals, schools and childcare centres may be more susceptible to catching a virus from patients or sick children. Having good hygiene habits such as washing hands thoroughly before meals, maintaining a good diet, and drinking plenty of water could help to reduce the chances of falling ill.
That Pregnancy Glow
While it is unlikely that exposure to hazardous chemicals will give you a luminous green glow-in-the-dark effect, pregnant mothers who work in laboratories and factories should nevertheless notify their employers of their pregnancy and request for a risk assessment to be conducted. Employees who wish to find out more can visit the following webpage by the Workplace Safety and Health Council for more information:
“Exposure to chemicals may affect the development of the baby, increasing the risk of congenital abnormalities” cautions Dr Tan, “in addition, the baby may be more likely to be born premature and require specialised neonatal care after birth.”
If necessary, pregnant employees should request for a transfer to a less hazardous environment.
Long working hours, shift work, business travel and stressful work conditions can take a toll on pregnant mothers, and may contribute to premature births and other problems during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, low birth-weight babies and even miscarriages. The Employment Act limits the extent of overtime work of an employee to not more than 12 hours a day. Pregnant employees should learn to manage work expectations and stress, and seek help from colleagues and supervisors when required.
What You Can Do
“Look after yourself when you know that you are pregnant!” advises Dr Tan.
Make an effort to have for regular meals, choose dishes that are balanced and nutritious, and schedule in short breaks to manage physical and emotional stress during pregnancy. Simple practices such as wearing comfortable shoes and clothing, putting your feet up while sitting or doing simple stretching exercises at your desk, will go a long way in helping you feel more comfortable at your workplace.
More importantly, Dr Tan advises pregnant employees to inform their employers about their pregnancy early, so that job expectations, workload and the office environment can be adjusted to help expectant mums stay healthy and safe throughout their pregnancy. Employers can also help by being more flexible and allowing pregnant mothers to explore alternative work arrangements, such as working from home.
If you have further concerns about the risks posed by your workplace to your pregnancy, speak to your obstetrician, or consult the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or your trade union for advice.
I Love Children would like to thank Dr Tan Eng Kien (Consultant, NUH Women’s Centre) and the Workplace Safety and Health Council, for their professional input.