Women can do any job on the farm or ranch, but when they’re expecting a baby or planning to become pregnant, it’s wise to take additional safety measures or avoid certain situations.
Knesha Rose-Davison is the public health program director for AgriSafe Network, a nonprofit organisation of health professionals and educators in agriculture. She offers safety tips for pregnant women in a free webinar at agrisafe.org.
Reproductive issues go beyond the nine months of pregnancy. “The things you do before, during, and after your pregnancy can have an impact on your future reproductive health cycle,” Rose-Davison says.
Rural women face health disparities compared with their urban counterparts, due in part to a limited number of rural health care providers specialising in women’s health and a lack of access to preventive services
Everyone faces risk when working around livestock; for women ages 15 to 59, cattle are the most likely cause of injury or death on the farm, Rose-Davison says. Being kicked or crushed are obvious dangers, but pregnant workers must also avoid contact with hormones and zoonotic infections from all livestock.
Two common sources of concern are oxytocin and prostaglandin. “Women have to be very careful to avoid being stuck with a needle while pregnant and working with hormones,” Rose-Davison says.
Oxytocin is administered to cattle and other livestock to induce labor, help with milk letdown, and treat mastitis. Prostaglandin is used to synchronise animals’ reproductive cycles. An accidental needlestick of either can cause loss of pregnancy in humans. Rose-Davison recommends avoiding contact with these injections completely while pregnant.
Pregnancies can also be threatened by exposure to zoonotic infections (those that can be passed between animals and humans) such as brucellosis, Q fever, listeriosis, chlamydiosis, toxoplasmosis, and leptospirosis.
“Women often work with the reproductive cycle of livestock, dealing with mucus and all kinds of fluids that can be a danger if you’re pregnant,” Rose-Davison says.
A female large-animal veterinarian featured in the webinar says, “I stayed away from kidding and lambing and all small ruminants, even if they had a normal pregnancy and no abortions. Q fever can be aerosolised, so I stopped doing small ruminant C-sections while pregnant. Any aborting animal would be a risk.”
Rose-Davison says contact with any fluid, including an animal’s saliva, can pose a risk of infection. “If you’re not working with head-to-toe personal protective equipment, you could be putting yourself and your pregnancy at risk, whether the livestock is having a healthy delivery or aborting,” she says.