Working long hours a pregnancy ‘hazard’

WORKING long hours is an occupational hazard when it comes to pregnancy, according to a study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG).

Shift work, physically demanding work and being on temporary contracts were also found to have “strong and significant associations” with low birthweight and pre-term births.

Researchers suggested that women on temporary work contracts may have poorer working conditions, including job insecurity, leading to stress and anxiety and possibly causing pre-term birth.

The 676 women involved in the study were working at the time of their first prenatal visit and were attending University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) and the Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin. Participants completed a questionnaire including information on their health, socio-demographic status, lifestyle behaviours and work.

This was followed up with an examination of hospital medical records relating to mothers’ health during their pregnancies and their pregnancy outcomes.

Researchers from University College Dublin and French public research body INSERM, conducted the study. Their analysis showed that being exposed to at least two of the four occupational factors identified as problematic increased the risk of having a baby with low birthweight (of 2,500g [5.5lb] or less). Low birthweight and pre-term delivery are considered to be major risk factors for morbidity and mortality of newborns. Evidence suggests birthweight may be associated with longer-term risk of adult disease.

Dr Isabelle Niedhammer, who co-authored the study, said it underlined “that more attention should be given to women’s working conditions during pregnancy, and efforts should be intensified towards reducing exposure to physical work demands, shift work, and long working hours. Special attention should also be given to pregnant women working on temporary contracts”.

Professor Philip Steer, BJOG editor-in-chief, said it was well known that physical and psychological stress in pregnant women can lead to adverse birth outcomes.

The study also confirms how smoking and heavy alcohol consumption lead to an increased incidence of low birth weight.

However the study found that no alcohol consumption at all was observed to predict low birthweight. However, researchers said a women with health problems may be more likely to abstain from having alcoholic drinks during their pregnancy. Or it may be due to “an under-reporting of alcohol consumption and even a complete denial of consumption for the women who had the highest alcohol intakes”.

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