Considerations for Working at a DSE Workstation When Pregnant

Niamh Pentony

Niamh Pentony

MSc. Applied Ergonomics

Anyone who uses a computer in excess of 1 hour per day is exposed to risk factors that may cause musculoskeletal injury – adverse, repetitive and static postures. The impact of these risk factors increases when the DSE user is pregnant.

What are the health risks associated with DSE use when pregnant?

Pregnant DSE users are at an increased risk of hip discomfort, lower back discomfort, carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling in the calves, ankles, feet and wrists, eye strain, headaches and migraines. This increase is due to a change in hormone levels in the body, increase in fluid retention and changes to the spinal curvature and centre of gravity due to the increasing size of the uterus.

How do you reduce the health risks associated with DSE use when pregnant

Take regular microbreaks from the workstation

Static postures during pregnancy increase the risk of developing lower back and hip pain, eye strain and swelling in lower limbs and wrists.

When you are seated at the desk, there are approximately 29 different muscle groups keeping you upright in the chair. As these muscles contract, they produce lactic acid. When you stay seated for prolonged periods, this lactic acid can cause inflammation to the muscle tissues, causing fatigue, stiffness and discomfort.

Fatigue to these muscles can also cause you to adopt poor postures as the muscles tire from keeping you upright.

Prolonged sitting also slows the circulation. This can cause fluid to build up in the lower limbs and wrists, causing swelling, tingling, pins and needles and pain. This is why pregnant DSE users are at a higher risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

This fluid retention can also affect the vision if fluid builds up in or around the cornea, resulting in blurred vision.

Moving from the workstation, even for 30 – 60 seconds, will give the circulatory system a boost, keeping the fluid moving around the body and reducing the risk of swelling. It will also give the muscles that were activated when you were seated a chance to relax, promote lactic acid removal and replenish the muscle with oxygen and fuel for the next period of sitting.

In the first and second trimester, these microbreaks should be taken at least every 45 minutes. In the third trimester, these microbreaks should be taken at least every 30 minutes.

Note: If your role involves a high level of video calls, I advise investing a wireless headset to facilitate regular movement breaks during the calls.

Also, drink plenty of water! Trips to the kitchen and bathroom will increase your mobility from the desk!

Increase the support at the DSE workstation using a footrest and foam back support

As the pregnancy progresses, the stress and strain on the lower back increases due to a deepening of the lumbar curve, an increase in the hormone relaxin increasing the laxity of the tissues of the spine, stretching and loosening of the abdominal muscles and increase in body weight.

It is vital that the lower back is supported when seated at the DSE workstation to take some of the load off the lumbar area and support the natural curvature. A foam back support will provide increased support and can be used on the office chair, kitchen chair and in the car.

D-Shaped Foam Back Support

A footrest is a useful accessory to have available when pregnant. Due to the changing size of the bump, it may be necessary to adjust your seated height relative to the desk so you can be comfortable when typing. Having a footrest available means you can adjust your height, while still keeping a stable base if your feet cannot comfortably reach the floor.

They are also useful to have under the desk even if you can plant your feet on the floor. Alternating between planting your feet on the floor and the footrest will raise your thighs from the seat of the chair slightly and encourage movement, improving circulation in the lower limbs.

Footrest

A useful alternative to the traditional footrest for pregnant DSE users is a foam roller. These can provide the stability of a footrest, with increased mobility of the lower limbs.

Ensure you are seated at the correct posture for a DSE workstation

Starting with the feet, they should be planted on the floor or a footrest. This provides the stable base. The hips should be slightly higher than the knees and elbows level with the work surface, or the keyboard if using a mechanical keyboard. The monitor should be high enough that the eyeline rests on the top 1/3 of the monitor when sitting upright and looking ahead with a relaxed neck. The back should be in contact with the backrest or back support and keyboard and mouse should be within easy reach when sitting back against the backrest.

This is to reduce excessive strain on the joints and tissues when seated at the desk.

Appropriate DSE seated posture

Ensure you are using the mouse correctly

Firstly, hold the mouse loosely and avoid gripping the mouse when moving it. Do not use a wrist rest as it can reduce blood flow to the wrist. Try and use the whole arm to move the mouse, keeping the wrist straight. If you have an adjustable armrest, adjust it so that it sits just under the elbow to help maintain a horizontal forearm and support whole arm movement of the mouse.

This will help reduce tension in the forearm, wrist and hand, maintain blood flow and reduce the repetitive micromovements associated with moving the mouse using just the hand.

Looking after your musculoskeletal health when pregnant is vital because the pregnancy is just the start! When the baby arrives you will sit, walk, rock, bounce, lie and carry in all different postures and shapes and a healthy musculoskeletal system will help you move freely and pain free.

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