This is the third part of the Pregnancy In The Workforce series. Here’s the catch: it’s only for the office. If you are interested in more manual labour ergonomic tips, I also wrote a full post about recommended lifting categories. This 3-part series just focuses on the practical changes exclusive to the office. If you are just joining the series now I’ll give you a quick Coles’ notes version of Parts 1 & 2. In Part 1 I share insights about ergonomics in the office and some specific tips about adjusting your chair throughout your pregnancy. In Part 2 I go into detail on how to improve the rest of your set-up to make it fit you ergonomically… there are some specific tricks of the trade that I share as well. I really wanted to make these posts useful with changes that you can put into place immediately.

This series will be useful to you if:

  • You manage those who are pregnant (like a HR-type position)
  • You are responsible for the health and safety of employees
  • You are pregnant or plan to be pregnant in the near future
  • You are unsure on how to set-up a workstation to limit ergonomic risks in pregnancy
  • You’d like some ‘insider’ information about pregnancy in the workforce

This is the last part of the series, where I share insights about how to set-up your standing workstation. When I was pregnant (both times) I really relied on two pro-tips to relieve pressure on my abdomen. The first being to recline the backrest of my chair (a must for any pregnant lady!) and the second was to stand more while working. I even did this during my twin pregnancy! The key thing with incorporating more standing into your day that you don’t want to do too much standing. Just like anything else in life moderation is key and this is especially for standing during pregnancy. If you are at all concerned that incorporating even a little bit of standing into your workday is unsafe then you definitely want to check with your doctor or midwife.

So… let’s jump into pregnancy specific tips about standing desks. But, here’s a quick note: this part isn’t going to be a specific as Parts 1 & 2 as the majority of the ergonomic tips will be applicable to the standing desk set-up- the only difference is that you would now be standing instead of sitting!

Standing Set-up Ergonomics

It’s always good to start with the good, right? Right! The good thing is that a standing desk is a little more straight forward to adjust compared to a sitting desk.

When I was pregnant I found that I absolutely needed to stand more often throughout my work day just to stay comfortable. Luckily I had a standing desk so this transition was very simple.  

If you don’t have a height adjustable desk but you NEED to stand, I have a Standing Desk Challenge that may interest you. This is a challenge that gives you the information on how to incorporate a safe amount of standing into your workday without the necessity of owning expensive sit-stand desks. I do recommend that you check with your doctor or midwife before you start to make sure that it is safe for your particular pregnancy health circumstances.

Making an Informed Decision.

Before you start with incorporating more standing into your day I want to inform you of the specific risks related to long-term standing and pregnancy. There seems to be some variations on the amount of time to be considered to be risky to stand for a pregnant woman. For instance some research has found that standing for more than 3 hours per day would be considered physically strenuous whereas other research has a much higher time limit – prolonged standing for more than 6 hours per day. So, what is the best move forward if you want some general guidelines? The first thing you want to do is get your doctor or midwife’s seal of approval and then you want to start incorporate standing periods gradually. Carefully and slowly add more amounts of standing into your day so you can see how your body reacts. For instance you might want to try standing for 1 hour TOTAL in your day (this amount of standing would be broken into four 15 minute periods – two in the morning and two in the afternoon), every day for one full week (or even two) to gauge how your body will react. Depending on how your body feels you might choose to keep the standing time the same, increase it, or reduce it. The main point is to do what works with your specific health concerns. I’ll be sharing some insights about safe standing schedules later in this post.  

The good thing with using a standing desk, the set-up is much simpler compared to sitting. Here are the two main areas (like the graphic above shows) that you will need to focus on to keep things comfortable and avoid ergonomic risks:

  1. Standing Resting Elbow Height
    • You should be able to position your elbows at about 90 degrees (aka resting elbow height) so that you shoulder’s are relaxed;
    • The working surface (ie: keyboard/mouse) should be positioned so that they are just slightly below your resting (90 degree) elbow height;
    • Throughout this whole process make sure that your shoulders are comfortable and relaxed. Feel any strain? That may mean that your working surface is either too high or too low; and
    •  You know if you hit the sweet spot if you feel no tension in your shoulders and you are extremely comfortable when you are typing/mousing.
  2. Standing Resting Eye Height
    • Just like when you sitting, resting eye height when you are standing is a comfortable and natural position to work with. Your chin should be parallel to the ground and this allows your gaze (aka your eyes) to look straight ahead towards the monitor;
    • The monitor’s screen should be positioned slightly below your standing resting eye height AND the bottom of the monitor should be tilted upwards at about 15 degrees. I go into a lot of the detail behind this tip in part 2, but in a nutshell it is just a more comfortable viewing position; and
    • You know if you hit the sweet spot if you you don’t have any tension in your neck while viewing the screen!

PRO-TIP: The height of the standing workstation is based on what you are trying to accomplish, specifically if you are working on the computer versus writing/drawing. This is an aspect of standing desks that is easily overlooked yet so simple to incorporate. Here are the goods:

  • Writing: Writing and drawing should be 50-100 mm (2-4″) above the standing elbow resting height
  • Computer work: The keyboard/mouse should be slightly lower than the standing elbow resting height (like I mentioned in the set-up tips above)

What about break times?  

You will frequently need to change your posture when you are pregnant even if you don’t use a standing desk in order to stay comfortable. Simple ways to incorporate more standing and movement into your day that don’t require a standing desk are easy to get started. For example – getting up and walking to see a colleague instead of emailing them can go a long way in preventing discomfort. Below you’ll find 4 guidelines that can help you when you are finding your standing time schedules. Make sure to try these gradually under safe standing ‘trials’ and always get your treating practitioner’s ‘seal of approval’ before you start!

Here are a few guidelines that everyone who uses a standing desk needs to know:

  • Start gradually. Just like anything else in life if you do too much standing too soon you will likely burn yourself out, get sore, and overall feel discouraged. Even worse would be getting injured. It can take just 30 minutes of standing for indicators of leg risk to be present. We don’t want that. Start slow and gradually work yourself up to longer standing durations, within the recommended guidelines from your treating practitioner (if they give you any). During pregnancy you will likely need your seated breaks. Don’t overdue it.
  • Limit standing time. Is there a ‘cut-off’ for a safe standing duration? Yes, according to research for non-pregnant people. Although not totally applicable for pregnant women these tips can help gauge the amount of standing that you do. This research is based off of the Prolonged Standing Strain Index and classifies standing risk exposure into one of three categories. I’ve also included a ‘stoplight’ analogy graphic that is based off of these categories for NON-pregnant people – it’s not totally applicable but it DOES give you some perspective and clarity if you are standing for too long at one time. 
    • The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout the day.
    • The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout the day.
    • The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout the day.

  • Incorporate a standing schedule. Anywhere from a 1:1 (sitting:standing), 2:1, and 3:1 ratios are all recommended by research. The most popular tends to be a 1:1 ratio, meaning that if you are standing for 15 minutes you must also sit for 15 minutes. Whatever sitting:standing ratio works for you, ensure that you don’t surpass the recommended daily amounts of standing time (in the graphic above OR what your treating practitioner recommended for you).

That Concludes The Pregnancy In the Workforce Series!

Thanks so much for staying with me for this series. This is something that I am very passionate about as I find that there is just so little useful information out there that advises a comfortable ergonomic work set-up for pregnant women. I’d like to hear some of your feedback!! What were (are) some of the biggest struggles or concerns that you had (have) about being pregnant in the office? What did you do to resolve them? Or what did you wish that you did? Leave a comment below to share your insights with the rest of the ergonomicsHelp readers!


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