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Demanding work linked to low-weight and preterm births

Experts say more focus needed on working conditions during pregnancy

ONMedica Staff

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Women who have high physical work demands during pregnancy risk low birthweight children, while casual workers are more likely to have preterm births.

These are the findings published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Researchers from University College Dublin, Ireland and INSERM in France conducted a prospective study on women in the Lifeways cohort, a group of women who have agreed to be studied regarding their lifestyle and the outcome of pregnancy.

Some 676 women in this cohort were working at the time of their first prenatal visit, and delivered a single baby.

Significant and strong associations were found between high physical work demands and low birthweight and temporary work contracts with preterm birth. Researchers suggest that women working under temporary work contracts may have poorer working conditions (such as stress and anxiety because of job insecurity), which may cause preterm birth.

Trends were observed in the working of long hours (40 hours or more a week) and shift work with a birthweight of ≤3000g.

Based on the findings from their research, the authors conclude that high physical work demands, being on a temporary contract, working long hours and working shifts are occupational factors that can help healthcare professionals predict birthweight and preterm delivery.

Dr Isabelle Niedhammer, who co-authored the study, said “Our prospective research analysed a large number of occupational exposures and linked them with adverse pregnancy outcomes (low birth weight, preterm delivery, and small-for-gestational age).

“This study underlines that more attention should be given to women’s working conditions during pregnancy, 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.”

Professor Philip Steer, BJOG editor-in-chief, said “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 premature delivery.

“It makes it all the more important for women to attend their antenatal appointments so that such risk factors can be identified during the early stages of pregnancy and appropriate arrangements can then be made for the care of the woman and her baby.”

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