Safety for the Pregnant Healthcare Worker

As someone who has worked in the healthcare field during two pregnancies, I wanted to shed some light on safety of the healthcare worker during pregnancy. I have no solid research on increased adverse pregnancy outcomes for healthcare workers, however I do have plenty of anecdotal evidence while working in various healthcare settings which has lead me to write this post. There are several hazards in the healthcare field to pregnant women I wanted to address:

1. Infectious Agents-When I worked in the ER unfortunately you often don't know what a patient may walk through the door with. This makes a pregnant person susceptible to contact with many infectious agents, some which can potentially cause harm to the developing fetus, many of which present with vague symptoms, such as fever and malaise. Zika has received a lot of attention, however there are other such agents, such as  Rubella and Listeria which also have the potential to cause teratogenic effects.  The CDC website has a list of infectious agents that are dangerous to the developing fetus. What can you do to protect yourself? For one, make sure you are vaccinated against varicella (chicken pox) and Rubella before pregnancy, since you cannot receive these vaccines after becoming pregnant. Second familiarize yourself with the signs/symptoms of persons that may be infected with these agents, and the modes of transmission so you may wear the appropriate protective equipment or avoid these patients all together. Some women are not comfortable telling their employers or supervisors about being pregnant right away, however I advise if you are in the healthcare field to at least tell your direct supervisor as soon as you know because the risk of miscarriage and birth defects is highest during the first trimester. If your supervisor knows you are pregnant you should be able to have patients reassigned if there is the possibility you may be exposed to a patient with one of the above mentioned infectious diseases.

2. Heavy Lifting-As the obesity epidemic in our country becomes worse, lifting and transporting heavy patients is commonplace among healthcare workers. Again, letting your supervisor know you are pregnant early on can allow for you to have modifications when it comes to certain heavy lifting. Make sure to let your OB/GYN know about the amount of heavy lifting required for your job, and if you need a note to excuse you from some of these duties get it sooner than later.

3. Radiation -Most areas of high radiation, such as x-ray and CT imaging room post signs warning about radiation hazards to pregnant women, however there are areas of hospitals and clinics where x-rays occur on the floor. Letting x-ray techs know you are pregnant ahead of time is a good idea, so they will be able to give you an extra heads up to keep your distance when a bedside x-ray is being shot.

4. Other Hazards- Stuff that may not immediately come to mind, but to be mindful if you are expecting are some other hazards of long shift work and working in the health care setting. Dehydration is one. Often with 12 hour shifts we do not drink enough water or give ourselves adequate periods of rest. I made the habit of carrying a 40 oz. stainless steel water bottle that reminds me to keep hydrated.

Another potential hazard among pregnant women are potentially combative patients. As a former ER nurse, having a patient that required restraints or was assaultive to staff was also commonplace. Being aware and communicating to your potential situations where a patient could be come combative is imperative.

I would recommend communicating with coworkers, supervisors, and OB/GYN early regarding pregnancy if you do commonly encounter any of these hazards frequently at your workplace. The safety of your child, especially in your first several months, should take precedent over all other work duties.
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