Working While Pregnant

Occupational Health, Vanderbilt Environmental Health and Safety (VEHS) and Vanderbilt Infection Control and Prevention have safeguards in place to help you protect your unborn baby while you work at Vanderbilt.

When you learn of your pregnancy, you are not required to tell anyone until you are ready to request medical leave. Pregnant faculty and staff may obtain a confidential consultation in Occupational Health to discuss any concerns they may have. We will help you understand any health risks in your work area and the protections available to you.

While most women may continue working as usual throughout their pregnancy, there are specific hazards to consider:

Radiation- The radiation safety policy offers enhanced monitoring of pregnant workers. Pregnant radiation workers may complete and submit a HIPAA-compliant Declaration of Pregnancy survey to Occupational Health and VEHS. If you work with radiation and you declare your pregnancy, the radiation safety professionals at VEHS will help you protect your baby by limiting your exposure.

Parvovirus B19 (Fifth Disease) – The CDC does not recommend that pregnant women be excluded from a workplace where a Fifth disease outbreak is occurring. If you are exposed to Parvovirus B19 while pregnant, a blood test is available to determine if you have immunity.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) - The CDC does not recommend excluding pregnant health care workers from caring for patients with known CMV infection. Spread of CMV requires direct contact with virus-containing secretions. Hand washing and using gloves are excellent ways to prevent infection. If you are exposed to CMV while pregnant, a blood test is available to determine if you have immunity.

Toxoplasmosis- Toxoplasmosis is an infection sometimes carried by cats and shed in their stool. Transmission occurs with exposure to germs released from the dried feces. Infection during pregnancy poses additional risks to the fetus. However, many adults have immunity to toxoplasmosis and cannot obtain the infection again. To prevent infection, never let cat feces sit more than 24 hours before scooping the litter. Always wear gloves and wash your hands after litter changes. Pregnant animal caretakers who work with cats may have an immunity test done at OHC; those who are not immune may request reassignment from caring for cats.

Inhalation agents and cytotoxic medications-The inhaled medications ribavirin and pentamadine and all chemotherapy medications pose additional risks to pregnant women. Under VUMC policies, pregnant caregivers may request reassignment rather than administer or handle these medications. However, reassignment is not mandatory, because use of the recommended protective equipment and specific administration and handling protocols does provide adequate protection from these risks, even for pregnant workers.

All safety programs at Vanderbilt have policies and protective equipment designed to protect all workers, whether pregnant, immunosuppressed, or otherwise vulnerable. However, individuals with specific concerns are always welcome to contact OHC to discuss their questions with an Occupational Health clinician.

Waste Anesthesia Gases - Halogenated inhalational anesthesia gases, such as isoflurane and sevoflurane, pose a theoretical risk of spontaneous abortion and fetal malformations.  While much of the data comes from studies on older gases (such as halothane) that are not used anymore, and animal studies on newer gases have not found any adverse effects on fertility or fetal development, the risk of spontaneous abortion with high exposures cannot be discounted. Use of these agents in combination with nitrous oxide may increase the risk.  When working around these gases, limit exposure by using equipment controls and work practices, such as:

  • Use the WAG scavenging system and have it inspected regularly
  • Achieve good face seal during inductions
  • Turn off gas when not in use, if possible, to avoid excess gas flow
  • Maintain gas source away from your personal breathing zone
  • Ensure that air exchange in rooms is adequate
  • Use a double-mask for gas-induced child anesthesia

Additional information:

Exposure to Resistant Bacteria in Pregnancy

Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Pregnancy

RSV Exposure in Pregnancy

Radiation Exposure in Pregnancy

Radiation Safety

Parvovirus B19 Exposure in Pregnancy

CMV Exposure in Pregnancy

VEHS Declared Pregnant Worker

Declaration of Pregnancy Survey

Babies and You Prenatal Education Program

VU Child Care Program

VUMC Child Care Program

Baby's Best Start tool kit.

Keywords: exposure, declaration, radiation, radioactive, radioactivity