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Working while pregnant

There is no reason why you cannot continue to work as normal for much of your pregnancy. However, there are a number of things that can make your experience easier – including legal entitlements – which are outlined below. 

The first trimester

  • For many women, the first trimester of pregnancy is the worst. You may well feel sick and tired. Morning sickness is often caused by low blood sugar. To prevent this, keep stashes of food in your locker and theatre kitchen cupboards etc.
  • Be aware that around 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually in the first trimester. You may want to be cautious about who you tell and when. 

Telling your employer and your pregnancy

  • You must let your employer know in writing about your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due.
  • You must also tell your employer the date when you want to start your maternity leave and maternity pay. They will want a copy of your MATB1 certificate from your midwife or doctor.
  • If you are a trainee, let the deanery and training programme director know - especially if you feel the pregnancy may affect your ability to achieve your competencies or if you want to return to work less-than-full-time.

Risk assessment

Your employer is obliged to carry out a risk assessment. Risks could be caused by: 

  • heavy lifting or carrying
  • standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks
  • exposure to toxic substances
  • long working hours

Where there are risks, your employer should take reasonable steps to remove them, eg by offering alternative working hours or conditions.

Your needs may change as the pregnancy progresses. You or your manager can ask for specialist medical advice from an occupational health physician. 

Consider carefully what you should be doing for your curricular requirements. For example, exposure to emergency surgery does not have to take place at night.

Points to consider about risk assessments and surgery

  • You do not need to stop on-call or night shifts unless a risk is found.
  • Practically, surgery is easier than many other jobs. In the NHS, there is often a lot of waiting time between operations.
  • You can sit down to operate for more operations than people realise.
  • There is no evidence that anaesthetic gases harm the foetus, but you may wish to keep away from the head end of paediatric cases, as their circuits leak.
  • You may worry about using x-rays. If you wear a lead gown, the effective dose to the foetus is less than 1milliSievert over 9 months, which is very low. It is your right to decide how much you do. Be aware that your training may require a certain number of cases, or trauma on-call. You can stand away and use short x-ray flashes to reduce effective dose further. There is more helpful info in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery and available from the Health and Safety Executive.

The third trimester

  • Are there any courses that you could do in your third trimester? It will be easier to study than work at this stage of pregnancy, and much easier than having to leave your baby to do a course.

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