Oh, baby! 8 risks to avoid in your veterinary practice during pregnancy
Someday you—or someone you work with—might decide to expand the family to include a baby that doesn't sport fur, wear a collar or use the litter box. You may be less familiar with infants of this species, and their lengthy gestation means you'll need to take extra care to keep mother and baby safe.
You probably didn't learn how to care for this species in school, so make sure to point any mothers-to-be to their human doctors for medical advice. Meanwhile, you can help make the workplace a little safer by keeping these tips—and the potential risks—in mind.
Educate your teamWhen I told my employers I was expecting, they were very accommodating. But not all bosses are so accepting. It helps to remember that this is a mere nine months the practice may be slightly inconvenienced.
A piece of advice for expecting mothers: In the end, when you're pregnant you need to feel comfortable with the decisions you make, and you shouldn't feel pressured by anyone else. Remember, this is your body, your health, your pregnancy and your baby. If you stand by your decisions, when your baby is born you will feel confident that you took care in the best way possible in their first months of growth.
In the veterinary field in particular, it's vital for employees to share news of their pregnancy as soon as possible to avoid exposure to many workplace hazards. It may be nerve-wracking sharing such personal information so early on, but remember that it's in your child's best interest, as the first trimester is the time of the most crucial development.
Many factors will determine a veterinary team member's risks when she's expecting. For example, receptionists who spend most of their time in the front office may pass through treatment or be exposed to different hazards briefly, while medical support team members who spend most their time in the back office might experience longer exposure. Regardless, it's important for managers to educate every team member of possible dangers. It's a good idea to present this information to team members when they're hired so they can take immediate precautions when they discover they're expecting.
Exposure to radiation can occur in a few different ways besides taking radiographs. Fluoroscopy procedures also use radiation, and I-131 treatments for hyperthyroid cats employ radiation as well. As with most risks, if you can eliminate the risk during your months of pregnancy and ask other team members pick up these duties, then discuss how you can still be productive in these months while avoiding these risks.
However, some team members will have a more difficult time avoiding these hazards—for example, perhaps you're a radiology technician in a specialty practice or the only credentialed technician in a practice. In these cases, take steps to reduce the risk. Radiation exposure during the entire gestation of pregnancy should not exceed 500 mrem.1 It may be helpful to review your exposure history for the past nine to 10 months before your pregnancy to ensure that your badge readings add up to less than this amount. If you've been exposed to more than this amount, you'll need to discuss with your hospital manager what changes you can make, and make sure your equipment is up-to-date on inspections and deemed safe.
Many pregnant women wear the same protective equipment during radiographs as before: apron—wraparounds are better for full coverage of that belly—lead goggles, gloves and a thyroid shield, but add in a dosimeter at the baby's level. This allows for more specific measurements of exposure to the fetus. If possible, take images with you and the pedal outside of the room if the patient is sedated and securely positioned.
2. Waste anesthetic gases
Another concern is the risk for waste anesthetic gas exposure. When a gas reaches the level where you can smell it, it's entirely too high to be safely exposed to, pregnant or not. You can avoid most risks by following appropriate operating procedures for the anesthetic machine. Always check the machine for leaks before you use it, and make sure the scavenging system is in working order and connected, which should be performed before every use outside of pregnancy as well. It's also important to make sure the endotracheal tube is cuffed and inflated appropriately to avoid leakage.
Once the procedure is complete and the patient is off of anesthetic gas, maintain the oxygen with the patient still connected to give time for the system to be flushed through the scavenging system. The most dangerous times for exposure are during induction and recovery, so swapping with another employee during these periods can help. It's a good idea to avoid mask and box inductions completely, as a much greater amount of gas seepage can occur.
3. Bone cement
This danger may not be an issue in most general practices, but in orthopedic or neurology specialties especially, bone cement can be used for surgical procedures. Bone cement is made up of liquid methyl methacrylate, along with polymethyl methacrylate. It can create strong fumes, and manufacturers advise pregnant women not be present during the mixing of bone cement.2 If you're pregnant and you see a surgery where bone cement is needed on the schedule, it may be best to either swap shifts or take the day off. With the exposure of fumes from bone cement, there may be an adverse effect on bone growth and overall fetal health, according to the FDA.3 A threshold limit of 125 ppm per 10 minutes was determined by the Substances Hazardous to Health Guidelines. However, without scavenging systems devices, measurements can range from 2 to 374 ppm, and with a scavenging system, 90 to 100 ppm.4 Since the detrimental effects are unknown, err on the safe side and try to avoid bone cement altogether, if possible.