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You can carry heavy objects up to a limited weight while pregnant, but you need to be careful. The amount of weight you can carry depends on your stage of pregnancy, how often you're lifting the weight, and what type of lifting you're doing. How much you can safely lift will also depend on how strong your muscles are before you get pregnant, and whether you're using proper lifting technique.
How pregnancy affects your ability to lift heavy weights
When you're pregnant, your ligaments loosen and your joints become less stable, so it's easier to injure yourself. As your belly grows, your center of gravity shifts forward too. This puts more pressure on your lower back and makes it more vulnerable to strain – especially when you're lifting something heavy.
The shift in your center of gravity can put you off balance, making falls more likely. A serious fall is not only dangerous for you, but it could be risky for the baby, possibly leading to preterm labor or premature separation of the placenta.
Some research suggests that frequently lifting heavy objects – at a job requiring physical labor, for example – may slightly increase the risk of having a miscarriage. It can also put you at increased risk for joint and back pain.
Heavy lifting guidelines for pregnant women
Before lifting heavy objects while pregnant, it's best to check with your doctor, especially if you do regular heavy lifting as part of your job or for fitness. Your doctor can help you determine how much weight is safe for you to lift.
There is limited data on how much weight is safe for pregnant women to lift. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has preliminary guidelines on safe weight limits for lifting at work during pregnancy. The limits take into account how often you lift, how many weeks pregnant you are, and what position the object is in when you lift it.
It's best to check the NIOSH graphic for your specific situation. But here is the maximum recommended weight you can lift if you carry it close to your body and at waist level only (note that the weight limit is lower if you're lifting from a different position):
Infrequent lifting (less than once every 5 minutes):
- Up to 20 weeks of pregnancy: 36 lbs
- After 20 weeks of pregnancy: 26 lbs
Less than an hour of repetitive lifting a day:
- Up to 20 weeks of pregnancy: 30 lbs
- After 20 weeks of pregnancy: 22 lbs
More than 1 hour of repetitive lifting a day:
- Up to 20 weeks of pregnancy: 18 lbs
- After 20 weeks of pregnancy: 13 lbs
Additionally, NIOSH recommends against lifting any heavy objects from the floor. Instead, try to make sure you're only lifting items from above mid-shin, or from at least 17 inches off the ground.
Keep in mind that these are just guidelines. If you lifted weights regularly before getting pregnant, you may have no trouble lifting weights that are higher than the guidelines recommend. If you're not used to lifting heavy objects, and start to do so during pregnancy, these maximum recommended weight limits may be too high. To figure out what limit is right for you, check with your doctor, and watch out for warning signs that a weight is too heavy (see below).
How to lift safely while pregnant
Whenever you do lift, always practice these safe lifting habits:
- Bend from the knees
- Keep your back straight
- Use your legs rather than your back muscles
- Tighten your tummy and exhale as you lift
- Carry the load close to your body
- Be careful not to twist
- If the load causes straining, don't carry it
It's also a good idea to avoid:
- Repeatedly stooping, bending, or squatting
- Lifting overhead
- Standing for a long time
- Lifting heavy objects from the floor
Warning signs that a weight is too heavy
You should stop lifting a heavy object or weight if:
- It causes pain or discomfort when you lift
- You can't lift it without holding your breath or straining your pelvic floor muscles
- You're unable to lift using the proper technique described above
If your job requires heavy lifting or strenuous work, make sure you understand your rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the laws in your state: If you're unable to perform your normal job duties because you're pregnant, you should be treated like any other employee with a temporary disability.