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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Working increases risk to pregnancy
Pregnancy scan
Pre-eclampsia can put mother and baby at risk
Working while pregnant increases the risk of the potentially deadly condition pre-eclampsia by nearly five times, research suggests.

Pre-eclampsia can be dangerous for both mother and developing baby, and occurs only during pregnancy, usually during the later stages.

We need to be much more certain about the effects of maternal work on pregnancy outcome before making clinical recommendations

Professor John Higgins
It causes a pregnant woman's blood pressure to rise to very high levels.

This causes complications such as fluid retention and can lead to the condition eclampsia, which is associated with dangerous convulsions.

The cause of the condition is unknown, but it is closely related to problems with the placenta restricting blood supply to the developing foetus.

Researchers monitored the blood pressure of 933 women in their early to late 20s over 24 hours while they went about their daily routines.

The women were all between 18 and 24 weeks of pregnancy with their first child.

They were divided into three groups: 245 were working during their pregnancy; 289 were not working; and 399 were employed, but chose not to work.

No other differences

There were no differences among the three groups in length of pregnancy, birthweight, or method of delivery.

But the women who were working had the highest blood pressure readings of the three groups.

They were almost five times as likely to develop pre-eclampsia.

This finding was irrespective of factors known to influence blood pressure, such as smoking, drinking, weight, height and age.

The authors did not assess what type of work was particularly associated with pre-eclampsia.

Many women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, a condition known as pregnancy hypertension.

But this usually poses very little risk to the mother or child, and the condition resolves after birth.

It does not automatically predispose a pregnant woman to developing pre-eclampsia.

Wherever possible employers need to take steps to reduce the causes of stress at work

Mary Newburn
National Childbirth Trust
The researchers say there is no obvious explanation for the link between pre-eclampsia and work.

However, it has been suggested that the stress of work may increase the amount of stress hormones that circulate around the body.

This affects the sympathetic nervous system, which then increases blood pressure levels.

Lead researcher Professor John Higgins, of University College Cork, Ireland, warned that it would not be right to draw firm conclusions from the study.

He told BBC News Online: "Working during pregnancy is now so close to being the norm that we need to be much more certain about the effects of maternal work on pregnancy outcome before making clinical recommendations that would limit women's choices.

"However, we need to continue to dissect out possible associations between maternal work and pregnancy outcomes."


Mike Rich, chief executive of Action on Pre-eclampsia, said that previous research had shown that certain types of work were associated with growth retardation in the womb.

However, he said the current study was based on small numbers and showed that although women who worked were at increased risk of pre-eclampsia, neither they or their children ultimately came to any more harm.

Mary Newburn, Head of Policy and Research at the National Childbirth Trust, said: "Many women have no choice but to work during pregnancy and very close to the time of their birth - often to save as much of their maternity leave as they can for after the baby has been born.

"Wherever possible employers need to take steps to reduce the causes of stress at work - ensuring pregnant women are allowed frequent breaks, a full hour at lunch and possibly flexible working hours to avoid them travelling during rush hour."

The research is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Health
Simple test for pregnancy danger
02 Apr 01 | Health
Pregnancy danger gene identified
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