Working after eight months of pregnancy could be just as harmful for babies as smoking.
According to a new study, women who worked after they were eight months pregnant, had babies who on average, were 230g lighter than those who stopped working between six and eight months of pregnancy.
Working late into pregnancy is as bad as smoking
The University of Essex research – which gathered data from three other studies – found that the effect of continuing to work during the late stage of pregnancy, was equal to that of smoking while pregnant. Babies whose mothers worked or smoked throughout pregnancy grew more slowly in the womb.
Past research has shown babies with low birth weights, are at a higher risk of poor health and slow development, and may suffer from a variety of other health problems later in life.
The study showed that leaving work early in pregnancy was particularly beneficial for women who were less educated. This suggested that the effect of working during pregnancy was possibly more harmful for moms doing physically demanding work.
This was particularly the case with older women, as babies of mothers under the age of 24, who continued to work late into their pregnancy, were not affected.
The sample used
Researchers looked at 1339 children whose mothers were part of the British Household Panel Survey – this was conducted between 1991 and 2005.
Another sample of 17483 women who gave birth in 2000 or 2001 and who took part in the Cohort Study, were also examined and showed similar results – along with 12, 166 from the National Survey of Family Growth – relating to births in the US between the early 1970s and 1995.
Prof Marco Francesconi – one of the authors of the study – said the government should consider incentives for employers to offer more flexible maternity leave to women who might need a break before, rather than after, their babies are born.
“We know low birth weight is a predictor of many things that happen later, including lower chances of completing school successfully, lower wages and higher mortality. We need to think seriously about parental leave, because – as this study suggests – the possible benefits of taking leave flexibly before the birth could be quite high,“ said Francesconi.
The study suggests that British women may be working for longer hours now during pregnancy compared to previously. About 16% of mothers questioned by the British Household Panel study – which went as far back as 1991, worked up to one month before birth, compared to 30% of mothers in the Millennium Cohort Study – whose babies, were born in 2000 and 2001.
The research, which was conducted by three economists, Francesconi, Emilia Del Bono and John Ermisch, has been published in the July edition of the Journal of Labour Economics, published by the University of Chicago.