Long hours = small baby

Pregnancy can be a perilous minefield of right and wrong – it’s hard to know what you should and shouldn’t do when there is so much conflicting advice out there.

My aunt told me that when she was pregnant, her GP informed her that she had to drink a glass of champagne before each breastfeed to encourage a good let down and maximum milk supply. Er, well, we know for sure that that is BAD advice, but there are some grey areas that make it hard for pregnant women to make informed decisions.

Ultimately most people want the best for their child, so if that means taking folate, avoiding alcohol, eating lots of broccoli and going easy on the hot chips, then it’s safe to say most pregnant women would do all of the above. Rest as much as you can, eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep are all necessities.

But in today’s stressful world it’s not always that simple – especially for women who work right up to the end of their pregnancy. For most women, working as long as possible is the goal as they want to maximise their maternity leave and therefore the amount of time they have with their baby before having to return to work.

As any new mum will tell you, every week counts! But for those in some occupations this can be really challenging – particularly for women who spend a lot of time on their feet, such as nurses and retail assistants, or those who work long hours, such as senior corporates.

And a new study that has just come out of the Netherlands has shown that working long hours has a direct negative effect – it causes smaller birth weights.

The Dutch study conducted by Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam looked at 4600 pregnant women. Results showed that those who worked more than 25 hours a week during pregnancy had babies that on average weighed less and had smaller head circumferences than those born to women who worked shorter hours.

The pregnant women were questioned on the type of work they did and the hours they worked, revealing that in addition, baby growth was linked to the amount of time the woman spent standing up for long periods.

Interestingly, they compared the effects of long working hours and standing up for extended amounts of time as having similar effects to other lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking caffeine during pregnancy.

This may seem alarming, but medical experts are certain that there were no adverse health effects in being of a smaller size – so hard working mums don’t need to panic just yet and can rest assured that they are not putting their baby at risk by working hard. Furthermore, the effects were subtle – head circumference was on average only one centimetre smaller and the babies weighed between 148g and 198g less than babies born to women who worked fewer hours.

One useful thing to come out of the study (other than giving pregnant women yet another thing to worry about) is that it may promote more discussion around the issues of employment and conditions for pregnant women. That can only be a good thing!

Many years ago when I was pregnant with my first child I struggled with a bruised coccyx and terrible lower back pain in the last few months of my pregnancy – I asked the management at my company for a decent chair to sit in (as a magazine journalist I spent virtually all day sitting at a computer) as an alternative to the cheap, unsupportive one I had.

They declined my request, which astounded me. As a result I was forced to leave work 6 weeks before my due date (instead of 2 weeks before) because I simply couldn’t stand the discomfort and pain of sitting in my crappy chair for 8 hours a day. That was 6 years ago however, and this company was notorious for being incredibly stingy and doing (and paying) only the bare minimum to staff their magazines.

On the whole, women no doubt have far better conditions these days, but studies such as the one from Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam can only serve to encourage dialogue, bring awareness and improve conditions to create healthy happy mums – and bubs.

by Sunny de Bruyn

Have you worked late into a pregnancy, or had to stop work early? What happened? Tell us below!