Protection During Pregnancy
Work and pregnancy.
Aug. 28, 2000 -- Joan Bartlet of Clarksville, Tenn., a single mother
expecting her second child, may have to work right through her pregnancy. She
needs the money and the health benefits that her job as an aide at a nursing
home brings. "This is a very stressful job," the 26-year-old says.
"I'm studying to become an RN, but for now I've got to do this."
Concerned about Bartlet's health -- and the future health of her baby -- her
obstetrician wants her to stop lifting patients from wheelchairs to beds and
back during the third trimester of her pregnancy. Although the nursing home
says this lifting is essential to her job, Bartlet is petitioning her employers
to switch her to lighter duty for these crucial three months. Despite her
doctor's advice to take a break if her employers won't budge, she doesn't have
disability insurance to cover lost wages if she were to take time off.
Bartlet has reason for concern. A study published in the April 2000 issue of
the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology gathered data from 29 recent
studies -- published over the last four years -- that monitored the experiences
of more than 160,000 pregnant working women. Researchers concluded that
physically demanding work during the third trimester significantly increases a
woman's risk of pregnancy-related problems. The study found a greater incidence
of premature birth, hypertension, and preeclampsia (dangerously high blood
pressure accompanied by swelling and toxemia) in the women with strenuous jobs,
especially those involving prolonged standing and repetitive lifting.
What Jobs Are Strenuous?
"Our research shows an increased risk for women who work on assembly
lines, who do heavy manual labor," says Ellen Mozurkewich, MD, principal
author of the study and a professor in the department of obstetrics and
gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. "This
is not about people in good shape who exercise sensibly during pregnancy. It's
not about women who work in offices."
In fact, all of the studies Mozurkewich and her colleagues analyzed were
careful to include a control group of working women who didn't do physically
demanding labor. One contrasted veterinarians working with cats and dogs to
vets who work with and move large farm animals. Another compared the
experiences of ward nurses who are constantly on their feet to nurses who sit
in offices doing paperwork. "Women who work tend to be healthier than women
who don't work," Mozurkewich says. "So the risk has to do with the kind
of work you do, not with working."
Reducing the Risks
Mozurkewich believes that pregnant women in physically demanding jobs should
ask to be switched to "light duty" work after the first trimester, but
she knows that's not always realistic. "The problem is that these women
can't afford not to work, and their employers can't honor their requests for a
lighter load without losing money," she says.