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Posted 06 May 2009

Working conditions may increase chances of pregnant women having underweight or premature babies, study suggests

Pregnant women who work long hours, shifts, temporary contracts, or positions with high physical work demands, may be at increased risk of giving birth to small or premature babies, according to new research published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG).

The scientific findings by researchers from University College Dublin and INSERM (a French public health organisation dedicated to biological, medical and public health research) suggest 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 which may induce stress and anxiety because of job insecurity,” said Dr Isabelle Niedhammer from the UCD School of Public Health and Population Science at University College Dublin, and INSERM, who co-authored the report.

The study involved 676 pregnant women from the Lifeways cohort who were working at the time of their first prenatal visit, and delivered a single baby.

The research identified high physical work demands as a risk factor of low birth weight (<2500g) and working on temporary contract as a risk factor of preterm delivery. Working long hours (40 hours or more a week) and working shift work tended to be associated with having an underweight baby (<3000g). They also confirmed how unhealthy behaviours during pregnancy such as smoking and heavy alcohol consumption lead to poor birth outcomes.

Analysis also showed that pregnant women who were exposed to at least two of the four occupational factors identified as problematic had an increased risk of preterm delivery and giving birth to a smaller baby.

It is well known that physical and psychological stress in pregnant women can lead to adverse birth outcomes, according to Professor Philip Steer, BJOG editor-in-chief. “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,” he said.

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Working conditions may increase chances of pregnant women having underweight or premature babies