Women with greater working demands tend to have a higher risk of small babies and preterm birth, according to recent findings.
A team from University College Dublin, Ireland, examined figures on 676 women who were working at the time of their first prenatal visit, and delivered a single baby. The women gave information on their health, income, lifestyle and employment, and this was linked to their medical records during pregnancy and the infant’s records.
Potential risk factors at work were defined as high physical work demands, being on a temporary contract, working shifts, and working long hours (40 hours or more per week).
Results showed “significant and strong associations” between these high physical work demands and low birthweight (less than 2,500g/5.5 lbs). There was a significant link between temporary work contracts and preterm birth (before 37 weeks’ gestation). The researchers point out that the link to preterm birth may be due to poorer working conditions, i.e. stress and anxiety because of job insecurity, that are common under temporary work contracts.
Overall, babies born to women who were exposed to at least two of the four occupational risk factors had a nearly five-fold risk of having a birthweight of 2,500g or less and a more than five-fold risk of preterm delivery.
Researcher Dr. Isabelle Niedhammer explained, “Our prospective research analyzed a large number of occupational exposures and linked them with adverse pregnancy outcomes (low birthweight, preterm delivery, and small-for-gestational age). This is one of the few prospective studies on pregnancy outcomes that include working conditions.
“This study underlines that more attention should be given to women’s working conditions during pregnancy,” she said, “and effort should be intensified towards reducing exposure to physical work demands, shift work, and long working hours for pregnant women. Special attention should also be given to pregnant women working on temporary contracts.”
The research is published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Journal editor Professor Philip Steer commented, “It is well known that physical and psychological stress in pregnant women can lead to adverse birth outcomes. This interesting piece of research has given doctors and midwives more information about non-medical reasons for an increased incidence of low birthweight and preterm delivery.”