When do you need to cut back on physically demanding tasks during pregnancy?

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By: Corina SanchezCC BY 2.0
I am a female mechanic, and I’m pregnant. Although my doctor has told me my body will let me know when I need to cut back on the heavy lifting, I’d like a better idea of when to expect that.

At 5 months, being down on my back is getting interesting, but I don’t know if I’m overdoing it just because I’m stubborn, or if everything really is fine.

My supervisor has said that he’ll scale back my work load when it becomes necessary… I’m just not sure when to tell him that will be. At what point during your pregnancy did you need to cut back on strenuous physical activities? — Amanda

Comments on When do you need to cut back on physically demanding tasks during pregnancy?

  1. I had a pretty physically demanding job while pregnant and didn’t find any one moment where things had to slow down. I had a few days around 7 months where I was experiencing some cramping and discomfort and chose to listen to that and clear my calendar for those days. But I also had some pretty heavy lifting, lots of running around and shouting days at 8.5 months and was fine. The bigger challenge was the frightened looks from those around me as I hefted large boxes and jumped in and out of cargo vans. I did have some trouble with heavy lifting once I was no longer able to hold things up against my front due to the protruding belly. I’m pretty good at using my body in ways that prevent injury, but when my body changed shape, that was much more challenging. Good luck!

  2. You need to ask your doctor because every person/pregnancy is different. I was close to not being able to walk from 5 1/2 months on, there is no way I would have been able to do your job. So everyone is different.

  3. Your body will let you know. I am currently pregnant with twins and while my job isn’t too much heavy lifting it is *constant* squatting and bending. I was fine until I wasn’t at around 26 weeks. Don’t push yourself as hard as you do not pregnant, if doing it is a strain cut back. If doing it is painful or causes Braxon-Hicks, it’s time to cut back. It’s pretty much listen to your body and practice common sense. It wouldn’t hurt to call an talk to a nurse at your doctor’s office about your concerns though.

  4. For me, around 8 months, and especially when the baby dropped around 36 weeks, it got a lot harder to move. I think your doctor is right, though, your body will let you know. Some things I would look out for would be feeling excessively tired, extra Braxton-Hicks contractions after exertion, and of course any pain at all. For me it was REALLY clear when I needed to take a rest–pain, exhaustion, just feeling “wrong”. I would also listen to your body if you’re “just” feeling grumpy or have a case of the I-don’t-wannas, for me emotions were one of the first symptoms of needing a little more rest.

  5. I do think it’s going to vary from person to person and you will know. I have an office job, but the bathroom is downstairs and on the other side of the building. Around 8.5 months, I started taking the elevator because I just couldn’t make it up and down the stairs 6 or 7 (or 8 or 9) times a day. It was also at that point that I found standing for long periods really uncomfortable. Prior to then though, I didn’t have any problem with physical tasks. I didn’t gain very much weight until the last month or two of my pregnancy though, so I’m sure that made things a little easier.

  6. They say it’s different for everyone. For me, the horrific morning sickness(LIES, IT IS ALL DAY) meant that I was pretty shaky until about 20 weeks, then I started feeling better, and I was feeling GREAT-until about last week (week 27) when I started getting ferocious Braxton-Hicks from EVERYTHING. Stairs? B-H. Standing at the stove to make dinner? B-H. Grocery shopping? BRAXTON EFFING HICKS.

    So, y’know, it’s a bit harder to get around, and I’m really glad that I have a desk job right now.

    What I’m trying to say is that you do what you gotta do for your health and comfort, as well as your baby’s health and comfort.

    I’d be more concerned about being on your back than the lifting right now, honestly. I’ve been told that being flat on my back too much isn’t good for positioning the baby, so I sleep on a small incline nowadays. Here’s to preventing back labor!

    • I second this, although for me, I notice that I’ve overdone it when the “morning” sickness comes back (even though I just entered my 3rd trimester now)! I work on a college campus, and it’s not physically demanding, unless you count running around the campus. That part hasn’t been bad, and I haven’t had any pain going up flights of stairs or anything like that, mostly it’s just paying attention to the length of my shifts. Normally, I will accept overtime to work on extra projects and make sure everything is getting done, but I’ve had to really limit myself on the overtime that I take on, because if I don’t I just end up having to call in sick for a day anyway! I get super tired after working with students for 8 hours, and regularly taking on 10 hour shifts makes my eating schedule wonky which makes ME wonky. So, I just don’t do that as much anymore.

  7. Currently 29 weeks and still professionally gardening. I have noticed that getting up off the ground and bending over are starting to become difficult. I swim a few times a week and walk twice daily also, which I think helps keep my core strong. With my first pregnancy I noticed a gradual slowing down up to eight months when I went on Maternity leave. Good luck Mama! Don’t worry too much about it you’ll get warning that things are getting harder.

  8. I definitely second the ‘your body will let you know, so listen to it’ advice. And would add that it’s not fair for an employer to pressure a pregnant woman to guess at a date. I’m not assuming this is happening to you, but just in case. It might be inconvenient for them, but they have to accommodate you, and you’re not a clairvoyant! Each woman and each pregnancy is different.

    I’m at 34 weeks now, and actually the first 14 weeks were the worst (all day sickness). I felt like I couldn’t ask to be accommodated, because I’d have to disclose my pregnancy before I was ready, because I felt weak not being able to cope with the sickness, and because I dodn’t want to make a fuss. I regret this now – I wish I’d listened to my body when it was saying ‘slow down, sleep more, accept help’.

  9. Broken record: you body will let you know. My first pregnancy I worked until the day she was born and never had any pains/exhaustion/etc and I had a fairly demanding job with lots of bending over, standing for 13 hours at a time, etc. I’m at 5 months with my second and I’m already worn down and starting to feel like I won’t make it to 9 months. I trust that my body is saying I just can’t do it like i did before. That being said, I wouldnt try and push yourself….still take it easy when you can, but keep going until you can’t anymore. Good luck!

  10. I worked as a baker until I was 8 months. I was lifting flour bags and carrying in heavy food deliveries until about 7.5 months, but I really should have stopped at 7. I had a lot of back pain at the end.

  11. Your doctor is right that your body will let you know. Just listen carefully. It may be just small things that you scale back on or it may seem like one day you just can’t handle it all.
    I’m a dance teacher so staying active throughout my pregnancy was relatively easy, but I had to allow/force myself to take more breaks because there’s no sense in over doing it or trying proving anything. There also finally came a time where I couldn’t do things simply because my body got in it’s own way.
    As for your employer, it sounds like he should be able to lighten your workload whenever you say, “I need to cut back. Thanks for understanding.”

  12. Being flat flat on your back is starting to be contraindicated. Even a small incline when working under the vehicle would be better. Here we are trying to make sure blood flows in and out of your legs properly. This is not something to be casual about. 2 get up by rolling over on your side, it is better not to let coworkers pull you up. Helpful and cute but with the relaxing it could over extend the shoulder joint. I found the better care I took of my body the more I could work. Doing thai massage is giving me heartburn. But table work is fine. I am intentionally lifting less, drinking more water, and eating a bit ahead of my hunger. It is important to research any chemicals you work with and decide what you want to do about reducing exposure. Some days I am more hungry or more tired but it passes after a few days. This is easier to take care of if you know it happens. At 6.5 months I would prefer to have a few more minutes between clients but I haven’t changed anything yet. I have also stopped doing spa services that involve heat unless it is my last one. I wouldn’t agree to more then three hours in a row of chair massage out call. It might not just be lifting but also excessive application of torque that you should watch out for as your joints are looser. Lame I know. I monitor my body for aches and pains. Pain = I over did it yesterday. Be awesome, have support, and don’t take any crap!

    • My chiropractor gave me some advice on how to position myself to be helped up. You take both palms and press them just above your elbow, pressing outwards with your palms and holding your forearms straight. This makes your forearms into a handle, and you can be helped up without overextending your shoulder joints.

      We sleep on the floor on a memory foam mattress, so this has been really helpful to get me up, since rolling in a memory foam in the morning when it’s all nice and warm is like rolling in a marshmallow. A really comfy marshmallow.

  13. I know a lot of people are advocating the “your body will let you know” approach (and they’re probably right), but you may want to ask the opinions of others who are close to you (like a partner or sibling). I’m incredibly stubborn and kept thinking, “Oh I can do this, no problem!” I didn’t recognize when it was time to slow down because I didn’t want to be seen as a wimpy or less valuable employee, and I didn’t want to change my lifestyle. Not slowing down when I should have had negative health outcomes for me and my babies (twins). I wish I had listened to my husband and coworkers more when THEY started suggesting it was time to slow down. Instead, I was deluded and even felt proud that I could “power through” (even though my body eventually reinforced the truth that I couldn’t).

    • Yes. I’m pretty good at listening to my body, but I’m also pretty good at “powering through” if I think I don’t have time to slow down. Sometimes it takes someone else saying that I look tired, or asking if I’m doing okay to let me know that it’s time to check in with myself & maybe re-evaluate what I’m doing or take a break. People who know you will be able to tell when you’re tired or in pain. Listen to them & don’t blow it off.

      • Along these lines, I think it’s important to find a doctor or midwife who is comfortable with you continuing an active lifestyle/work in theory… that way, if your doctor tells you that you should scale back, you’ll know it’s because you should and not just because the doctor in general is paranoid about exertion during pregnancy. At least, that’s something I’ve found personally.

  14. I’m a (female) carpenter, so this was a huge concern for me. My best advice would be to have a back-up plan for the entire pregnancy, even though you may well be able to work the whole time. I expected to be able to work until about six months. It turned out I had terrible nausea (almost turned into hypermesis) and dizziness from about week five. Being on ladders or using a table saw would have been dangerous given that I couldn’t even see straight some of the time. And I found out that the noise of a saw could have caused high-frequency hearing loss for my son. It was not worth the risk to my safety, my son’s hearing and the safety of those I work with to continue working. I was fortunate that I could get on disability because of the sickness. This likely won’t happen to you, but have a plan in case you need to leave work earlier than you expected.

    • This has all been super helpful! Thanks y’all! Many thanks to you, Amy the carpenter, for addressing the noise level.

      Kidlet seems pretty unfazed when I take off tires using my impact wrench, but I have been careful to avoid using air tools too close to my belly.

  15. Around 7-8 months I noticed physical things becoming a bit more difficult and tiring. I did a really steep 7-mile hike when I was a little over 8 months, and I realized about halfway up the mountain that I was overdoing it a bit.
    Just as your doctor and everyone else has said, you’ll definitely be able to tell if and when your body isn’t up to certain tasks. It is really hard to predict when that will happen, if at all, since it depends on so many different factors but if I could guess an average I’d say 7-8 months is when things start to get more uncomfortable and challenging.

  16. I’m a zookeeper, and I’ve had two co-workers who are pregnant. Both of them had weight restrictions from their doctors/midwives for how much they could lift. One of them also wears a belly band at work to help hold up her stomach so that her muscles can continue to do the work work, not the hold-up-the-belly work. She says it’s a life-saver; she didn’t wear it one day and was sore for three days afterwards.
    The one coworker who has given birth worked the day before she went in to labor, doing her regular job minus heavy lifting (climbing, bending, etc). The other one is at 8 months now, and is planning to work up until labor as well. We’re helping her out with lifting stuff, but she does everything else, on her feet all day.

  17. I worked at my heavy lifting constant squatting job until 2 days before i delivered my daughter. I didnt really change my job so much as altered how i did it. My doctor told me that keeping up with the movement you can will keep you able to do it. So as long as i wasnt going heavier, just keeping up my pace it was ok unless something hurt. I was stubborn as well, just dont work yourself to where you dont feel good later its a pain.

  18. its wonderful being able to keep at your pre-pregnancy activities till late on, but reality is often totally different and there are so many different things to look out for.

    i’ve gone from being gung-ho about the procedures i do, to totally cutting back and doing smaller tasks on my shifts where i can be seated for short amounts of time. there is no shame in cutting back. nobody is going to thank you for sacrificing you and your baby’s wellbeing for heavy duties at work.

    as far as being on your back: avoid. i really didn’t feel myself being affected by it but baby certainly does. earlier this week i had an nst as i felt that baby’s movements were not what i was used to. at the time, i was lying slightly reclined on my back… the nst was incredibly worrying – the baby’s heartbeat was doing all sorts of bad (decellerations frequently). since then, i’ve been paranoid about being on my back – even while fast asleep, so i try to pad myself with pillows where i can.

    in addition, i also have to do overtime on occasion (up to 27 hr shifts sometimes) and make it my personal priority to get some rest.

    neither the baby nor i would benefit if i accidentally ran off the road from exhaustion on the way home the following morning. and i would never forgive myself if i ever let that happen. so take breaks – frequently. catch a few winks of sleep, if you feel exhausted and work permits you to. you dont want an accident on/off duty to add to an already stressful time.

    the other priority is to get enough food in when you’re at work. i was fairly careless when it came to my diet pre-pregnancy, but the thought that my mild dehydration could affect my baby (decreases amniotic fluid volumes), my lack of carbohydrates could affect my baby’s general wellbeing or at worst cause me to collapse from exhaustion were more than enough to motivate me to rethink my lazy habits.

    theres a whole lot to be considered in pregnancy.

    my personal advice, DO NOT be afraid to ask for help or to be transferred to light duties (sooner rather than later, imho). you dont want to regret anything that you did or didnt do over these precious few months of your pregnancy.

    all the best! 🙂

  19. As others have said, YOUR body (or your doctor!) will tell you. I kept running until week 26 of my pregnancy but stopped when it was causing me to be in (non-dangerous but annoying) pain for a day after each run. For a great scientific look at strenuous exercise while pregnant, I highly recommend the book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by Dr. James Clapp. Good luck!!

  20. I’m a nurse, and although I haven’t worked in OB/GYN for over 14 years, I have had 3 babies myself. I would agree with comments about asking your husband or partner how they think you are doing. They may recognize fatigue in you that you might not. The belly band is also a great suggestion, and I would completely agree with not laying flat on your back. Try for at least a minimal incline. Watch for physical signs of stress, including change in vaginal discharge, lower back pain, pins and needles feelings in your legs and of course, fatigue. We usually recommend a decrease in lifting, straining by 28 weeks. Good luck with your pregnancy and your baby! It’s the most important, most wonderful thing you will ever do!

  21. YMMV! I felt fine at the end of my pregnancy–I went on a week-long bus tour at 37 weeks that everyone tried to tell me I would be “too tired” to do. I wasn’t. I went on an 8 k hike a day before my son was born.

    That said, it isn’t so much about *lightening* your workload as * accommodating* your different needs and abilities while pregnant. Will you get too big to fit under a car? Possibly. Will you be unable to lie on your back? Yes. Does that mean you’re incapable of doing anything? No. But you may need different work, different postions, etc.

  22. Definitely listen to your body. At only 18 weeks I had some sharp cramping after doing some lifting at work (I supervise group homes, so I’m usually actively transferring residents, repositioning them in bed, etc) so I stopped doing any heavy lifting or difficult transfers and letting other staff help me out. My cramping stopped about a day after I stopped doing these tasks! Now I am 22 weeks and while I feel great now, my body still let me know when certain things are just too much. As long as you feel good, and your body isn’t giving you any signs to stop, it’s probably just fine to keep going.

  23. I’m curious about this subject as well. While I don’t plan on kids for a couple more years, it is something I think about. My current job is being an animal control officer. I wear a duty belt with tools on it that I know will have to go fairly early, but I wonder about chasing after dogs, crawling under porches to find kittens, that sort of thing…

  24. I’m currently 28 weeks along and work as a paramedic at 2 local ambulance services. As much as people say “your body will let you know” it’s hard to determine when that really is. Ok, I had Braxton hicks yesterday while walking the dog, should I call out of my 16 hour overnight shift today and not get paid? Or should I wait and see?
    I’m depending on a combination of things telling me when to stop: my body, my mind, my baby, my doctor, and my boss, all in order of importance.
    Good luck!

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