Even though a woman may want to spend 9 months with her feet up, personal preference and economic necessity mean that many women spend most of their pregnancies working. But a pregnant woman's work conditions may affect her risk of delivering a small baby, say researchers from Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
Investigators contacted 1,536 women who'd given birth between January 1997 and March 1999 to ask about their working conditions during pregnancy. The women answered questions about the hours they worked and whether their schedules were regular. They also reported whether they had to stand and lift heavy weights at work and whether they were exposed to noise, vibration, or tobacco smoke. The women also provided information about whether they stopped working or moved to a different job within the company during pregnancy. Finally, the women provided information about their deliveries and the size and gestational age of the baby at birth.
The researchers discovered that working an irregular or shift-work schedule increased a woman's risk of delivering a small baby. In addition, women working jobs with more than one risk factor (such as working late at night, standing at least 4 hours a day, working in noisy environments, and lifting heavy loads at work) had a significantly higher risk of delivering small babies. However, when women with risky occupational factors changed their working conditions or stopped working before 24 weeks of pregnancy, their risk of delivering a small baby dropped to rates similar to those of women who didn't have stressful occupational conditions.
What This Means to You. In Canada, federal law allows women to take "preventive measures" and change jobs during pregnancy or collect disability if a doctor deems the job unsafe during pregnancy. Nearly half of all of the workers in the study withdrew from work, modified their working conditions, or did both to prevent pregnancy problems. Although federal law in the United States does not offer the same options, your employer may be able to work with you to make changes to your schedule or job duties to reduce physical strain during pregnancy. If you have concerns about your job and its effect on your pregnancy, talk to your doctor.
Source: Agathe Croteau, MD, PhD; Sylvie Marcoux, MD, PhD; Chantal Brisson, PhD; American Journal of Public Health, May 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2006