There are dangers in every work environment that you don’t think about until you are pregnant. At the moment in the medical laboratory profession, there is an increasing workforce shortage that has brought a little more attention to the needs of medical laboratory workers. The common theme is better support of the family unit, but as a pregnant Medical Laboratory Scientist I noticed issues that are not commonly addressed.
Working in the Lab while Pregnant
When I first found out that I was pregnant, I was worried and concerned. I thought of my career and how it would fit with the added responsibility of a baby. I also thought of the safety concerns related to my work in the medical laboratory. I’m sure many new moms can relate to this. The safety of my unborn baby automatically became my top priority as I tried to recall any prenatal health hazards I might have already encountered. As a result, I hope to encourage more support and safety education for pregnant workers in the laboratory field.
Working in a hospital laboratory poses some risk to a fetus, but should be safe in most circumstances if the proper precautions are taken. From a pregnant mother’s perspective, it would be nice to have some added benefits and reassurance when working in the medical laboratory environment. Following proper safety protocols is even more important when you are carrying another life.
Follow Safety Standards
The most indelible memory in relation to safety hazards, is the time I visited a patient’s room to collect a blood specimen. The nurses and attending physician considered the patient to be a possible tuberculosis (TB) case. Unfortunately, nobody put up any signage indicating that. I was very upset when I found out about it. Those pregnancy hormones were difficult to control. Thankfully I did not get TB, but the incident reminded me of the potential dangers I faced working in a hospital.
Provide Pregnancy Specific Chemical Safety Data Sheets
Another thought began to worry me while I was pregnant. What if routine laboratory chemical exposure might hurt the fetus? I know I should read the material safety data sheets (MSDS) in the lab if I am concerned. On the other hand, that is something most lab techs would not take the time to do. I was too exhausted during my first trimester of pregnancy. With the lab shortage, it is nearly impossible to do your regular work and also sift through that huge book. It would have been nice to have a simple reference pamphlet provided by the employer indicating the chemicals a pregnant employee should be more cautious about using. Although you should always use proper protective equipment while working, the risk of chemical and bio-hazardous exposure can still be concerning.
Make Allowances for Pregnant Workers
Since I am a “worry wart” by nature, I could always find something to worry about during my first pregnancy. That would not have stopped me from working in the medical laboratory field, though. Being a Medical Laboratory Scientist is an exciting career. I had planned to work in the laboratory as my lifelong profession since I was a little girl. The aches and pains of pregnancy would not discourage that, or so I thought.
Then came along week 36 of pregnancy. I waddled everywhere and I had an exhausting commute of three hours every day. Also, as other lab techs know, working in the lab requires quite a bit of standing throughout the shift. Working in a hospital on night shift can cause breaks to be sporadic, sometimes cut short, and occasionally skipped. This can be very difficult on a pregnant person; my blood sugar would drop so easily that I needed a break often.
Looking back, it would have been better to receive the benefit of switching to another shift. Maybe with a doctor’s note, you can move to another shift. The thought did not occur to me at that time. If an employee knew that a workload change was a benefit they were entitled to while pregnant, it would probably be a great relief to many women.
Also, having benefits that extend to women beyond pregnancy would be extremely helpful for everyone. For instance, employers should better support new mothers. By doing so, the employers would have a better work environment, happier employees, and increased productivity. This is especially true when applied to breastfeeding support. In America, there is not enough support for breastfeeding or pumping in the workplace, hospitals and laboratories included.
The lack of support is very unfortunate since breastfeeding is a necessity for optimal health in children and women. Children would be ill less often, causing fewer absences from the mothers or fathers. Also, mothers who have breastfeeding support return to work sooner because they are not worried about having to wean their child. For me, this was a major deciding factor of whether I should continue working after my baby was born. Finding a relaxing place to pump and trying to fit it into my third shift schedule seemed impossible.
Provide Childcare On-Site
On top of that, I needed to find someone I trusted to watch my baby all night long since my husband worked evenings. This proved very difficult because not many family members were willing and able to take care of a three month old all night. If an employer provides on-site childcare services, that would “kill two birds with one stone.” I could nurse my child and see that she was being well cared for during my breaks . It is so simple and convenient. In my opinion, that would be one of the best benefits an employer could provide. Even though I love spending time with my child, it would be very tempting for me to return to work if I knew this benefit would be available.
Although there has been much improvement to women’s rights in the workplace, there is still a need for more leeway towards pregnant and nursing women. If employers want to build morale and support for families, this is a good place to start. I love the laboratory and really miss the lab environment. I will always put my child first, but I wish I could do both. Overall, it would be good for everyone (businesses, children, and parents), a win-win-win situation.