Ergonomics in Pregnancy

With many women working today, it is important to understand how pregnancy can affect workplace safety.
Pregnancy alters the body’s shape & thus, the interaction with the worksite. The abdomen becomes increasingly larger, causing progressive postural problems, backache, & impairment of dexterity, agility, coordination & balance. Hormonal changes affect the ligaments, increasing the likelihood of injury. Joints in the spine become less stable & show signs of separation & movement to accommodate the growing fetus. 
Following simple steps to adjust your computer workstation that suit your body and its changing needs in your pregnancy will greatly improve the way you feel at the end of the day.

Ergonomic concerns that a pregnant woman experience include:
Most employers immediately consider the harmful effects of chemicals in the workplace when first notified of a pregnancy.
Less obvious, yet equally important to the pregnant employee’s health & well-being, are ergonomic hazards such as awkward postures, heavy lifting, limited rest periods & repetitive force. Back pain & Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are relatively common side effects of pregnancy as well, & both may be aggravated by job tasks.
As the pregnant worker’s body changes shape, new hazards related to reach, balance, lifting and repetitive motion may develop. Employers must be aware of these changes in order to continue to provide a safe, comfortable workplace.

  • Sustained & repeated postures
  • Pressure on hard surfaces while typing
  • Improper mouse operations
  • Forward head
  • Leaning forward away from the back of the chair
  • Bending sideways to use alternate work space
  • Sliding the chair across the work surface
  • Awkwardness, fatigue & tendency to lose balance become critical when quick reaction time or work on elevated surfaces is required. For example, work on platforms or the use of step stools may now present a greater hazard. 
  • Standing for long.

Tips for pregnant working women:
While application of sound ergonomic principles benefits all workers, the following actions can be considered when modifying a pregnant worker’s job:

  • Tasks should be arranged to minimize twisting the body and stress on ligaments. For instance, a document holder placed next to the monitor reduces turning of the head and neck, protecting against straining these muscles and ligaments.
  • Sitting can be more difficult than usual, as immobility can lead to pain. This is especially a problem with the added back strain pregnancy causes. Moving around during the work day is therefore critical. Standing up for quick breaks or at least switching positions can help avoid the worst of these problems.
  • Limit standing time to less than three hours a day.
  • Use only adjustable ergonomic chairs. Use of a lumbar cushion is particularly useful during the third trimester.
  • Adjust the height of the work surface so that you can minimize the reaching distance. Women late in pregnancy may prefer a considerable lower table height than common guideline heights.
  • Modify the height of the monitor and keyboard to reduce the risk of CTS. As your abdomen gets larger, you should adjust the desk according to it.
  • Install foot rests (for seated and standing workers) so that one foot can be alternately raised.
  • Lift only items less than 10 pounds/5 kgs if it is necessary, to keep your spine safe.
  • Adjust work hours (e.g., flexible scheduling, day shift rather than night). Modify break schedule (e.g., shorter, more frequent breaks).

Pregnant workers require extra attention with respect to potential ergonomic hazards that are either created or exacerbated by pregnancy. Appropriate accommodations can prevent injuries, enhance the employee’s comfort, and help her better handle the stress of work combined with the physical changes related to pregnancy.

Also Read: Benefits of Exercising in PregnancyComfort in LabourBreathing in Labour & Workstation Ergonomics

How to be comfortable in Labour

The anxiety of pregnancy followed by painful childbirth dogs most women. However, following a few easy steps and making adequate preparations can significantly make labour easy.

Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest factors that contributes to pain. Throughout labour, the woman, if not aware, will be anxious whether the developments in her body are normal or not, which is why it is important to tell women beforehand what to expect.

Everyone’s labour is different, and pinpointing when it begins is not really possible. It’s more of a process than a single event, when a number of changes in your body work together to help give birth.

In early labour, also called the latent phase you may feel: 

  • Persistent low back or abdominal pain, usually accompanied by the crampy premenstrual feeling.
  • A bloody show (a brownish or blood-tinged mucus discharge). If you pass the mucus plug that blocks the cervix, labour could be imminent or it could be several days away. But it’s a sign that things are moving along.
  • Painful contractions occurring at regular and increasingly shorter intervals and become longer and stronger in intensity.

How you feel in early labour depends on whether you’ve had a baby before, how you perceive and respond to pain, and how prepared you are for what labour may be like.

What should be done in early labour?
This will depend on what time of day it is, what you like doing and how you’re feeling. Keeping calm & relaxed will help your labour to progress and help you cope with the contractions.
This could mean watching a favourite film, relaxing, or asking a friend or relative over to keep you company. You could alternate between walking and resting, or try taking a warm bath or shower to ease any aches & pains. If you can, try to get some rest to prepare you for the work ahead. 
During early labour, you may feel hungry so eat & drink if you feel like it. This will help to comfort you and help you to rest. 
Early labour is a good time to try out various positions & breathing techniques to see if they help you cope with the contractions.

How make yourself comfortable during labour?
One’s posture tells a vivid story about the person’s state of mind. When tensed, we tend to curl into a ball, like a new born baby. Our shoulders get hunched, we tuck are chin in, bend our elbows & pull in out arms. When pain is felt, we adopt a similar position.
Some of the strategies that can be used to relax during labour include:

  • Postural Awareness
  • Relaxation Posturing
  • Visualization & Imagery
  • Breathing Patterns
  • Labour Positions
  • Touch & Massage

Postural Awareness:
Being aware of your posture can be used when you are tensed or in pain. Relaxation can be obtained when consciuosly you move from a posture of pain to a posture of relaxation.
Relaxation Posturing:
Irrespective of which posture you choose, maximum relaxation can be obtained when the whole body is completely supported. This can be achieved by taking complete support from in the chosen position & with the use of pillows.
In Sitting-

Sit with complete back support, from buttocks to neck, arms resting on arm rests & feet on the floor. If your feet do not reach the floor, keep a pillow or a stool to place your feet on. Hips & knees both should be at 90 degrees.

Leaning forward, resting your head on a table is also a good posture for relaxing. Make sure the edge of the table is not pressing against the baby.

In Lying-

Visualization & Imagery:
Visualization & imagery is an technique which depends on your imagination. You can picture & relive a happy experience. Relive the sounds, touch, emotions & all sensations pertaining to that memory. If not, you can visualize a scenery-beach, mountains, the calm ocean, & experience the sounds of the waves/birds chirping/feeling of the wind on  our face/feel the sand between your toes etc.
Breathing Patterns:
Breathing Deeply increases the oxygen content in the body & induces relaxation on exhalation.
How To- Keeping your shoulders relaxed, take a deep breath in through your nose. On exhaling through your mouth, feel the tension leaving your body.

Labour Positions:
Adopting different positions is helpful in dealing with the contractions. Breathing techniques can be used in these positions. It is advisable to practice these positions from 7-8th month onwards, so that you can decide which positions are comfortable for you. Few of the commonly used positions are shown.

Above shown positions help in reducing low back ache ( No.3-All Fours/No.5-Squatting) during contractions & increases blood supply to the baby. The Squatting position (No. 5) helps the baby to descend and gets the head locked in the birth canal. The baby’s head gets fixed in the right position, which helps during labour. However, make sure you consult an expert before engaging in this exercise.
The breathing patterns used to relax during contractions can be practiced in these positions.
Massage in labour is a very personal thing. It is most important that whoever is giving the massage is sensitive to your changing needs- with regard to location, depth, technique & well supported positioning.
Back pain in early labour is commonly felt in the low back region & can intensify as labour progresses.

Performed usually with you sitting & leaning forwards on your hands. Using the heel of their hand, your partner can gently knead your low back & increase or decrease pressure according to your comfort.

Performed either in side lying or in the sitting position. Slow rhythmical stroking using fingertips from the neck to the tail bone, single or double handed, can relieve tension & induce relaxation. Can be performed over the spine or parallel to it. Pressure can become slightly deeper as the hands descend.
The lower half of the stomach is the most common site of pain. This massage can be done using fingertips of both hands.

Side to Side stroking over the area of pain, will give relief. Perform using fingertips/ palms of both hands.

We hope these tips have been useful to you to prepare for your labour. We would like to hear about your experience.

(Read about Breathing Patterns in How to Breathe during Labour)

Exercise Benefits in Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a life altering change in any woman’s life. The 9 months of pregnancy transforms a woman into a mother, changing her forever!

The 1st Trimester (1-3 Months) are of Adjustment to the fact that life is growing inside her. She will go through physical & emotional changes. Hormonal changes, morning sickness, backache, fatigue along with excitement, apprehension & mixed feelings are some of the changes she faces.
The 2nd Trimester (4-6 Months) are of Acceptance. She will have more energy, hormones are more balanced, there will be reduced mood swings, sex will be more appealing & she will feel the baby move too.

The 3rd Trimester (7-9 Months) are of Anticipation. Physical & emotional changes will include discomfort due to enlarged  body, body image issues, feelings of unattractiveness, decreased desire for sex, apprehension about birth along with excitement for the coming baby & concern about loss of freedom.

“What does Exercise have to do with Pregnancy?”
Common problems like Backache, Breathlessness, Constipation, cramps in the leg, Leaking Urine, Stretch marks, Tiredness, Varicose veins can be relieved by exercising.
Some of the advantages of exercising during pregnancy, labour & after delivery are going to be discussed.

Exercising during Pregnancy:
  • Keeps you comfortable

With each passing month & the growth of your baby, your body size & shape changes. This can lead to pains like backache, reduction in muscle strength especially of the chest, stomach & back muscles.

  • Improves Posture: Strengthening exercises for your upper back & stomach; Stretching exercises for your Chest, Shoulder & Low back muscles will help reduce back pain, sagging breasts & loose stomach after delivery.
Before & After Exercise

Fatigued is felt in the 1st Trimester due to morning sickness, hormonal changes & mood swings; also felt in 3rd trimester due to breathlessness.

  • Improves Energy Levels: Breathing Exercises increase oxygen supply to the mother & baby, reducing fatigue, improving moods & emotional stability as encourages relaxation. Also aerobic exercises improve stamina which again improves energy levels & reduces maternal exhaustion by 75%.
  • Improves Breathing

Mood swings are common in pregnancy due to hormonal & physical changes.

  • Improves Emotional Stability: Exercising releases Endorphins (The Happy hormone), which improves mood.

Cramps are common in pregnancy, at all stages. The reason behind this is reduced blood flow.

  • Improves Blood flow: muscles contracting & relaxing during exercise cause increase in blood flow which helps in bringing oxygen to the muscles & at the same time removes waste/ toxins from the muscle, hence reducing cramps.

Some of the discomforts during pregnancy include- Cramps, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (Pelvic Pain), 

  • Decreases Excessive weight gain
  • Maintains lower resting heart rate

Exercising during Labour:

  1. Increases stamina to cope with the long, hard labour
  2. Decreases chances of a C-Section by 75%
  3. Decreases the need of Oxytocin by 50% (Used to induce labour)
  4. Decreases active labour time by 30% 

Exercising after Delivery:

  1. Decreases delivery problems like muscle tears & weakened pelvic muscles
  2. Increases level of endorphins (Pain relieving hormone)
  3. Easier to recover energy levels, strength & pre-pregnancy size
  4. Fewer incidences of Post- Partum depression

Simple exercises taking no less than 20 minutes of your time, will help tremendously in making your pregnancy extra special!
(Read more for pregnancy, labour & post delivery in How to be comfortable in Labour; How to Breathe during Labour & Flat Abs)

NOTE: Please consult your doctor before exercising.