A new study has found that pregnant mothers working up until 8 months into their pregnancy could be just as harmful as smoking during pregnancy, with regards to the baby’s health and the related risks. Babies, whose mothers had carried on working past the 8 month mark, weighed an average of half a pound lighter than those of mothers who took earlier maternity leave.
The research, conducted at the University of Essex, drew upon the results of 3 studies which looked at the relationship between the point during the pregnancy in which the mother took maternity leave and the birth weight of their children. It was found that the later the mother left employment prior to the birth, the slower the child developed in the womb. This startling discovery has been likened to the effects of smoking during pregnancy, an act which is socially and medically condemned due to its detrimental effects on the unborn child, particularly with regard to development and birth weight.
Doctors associate a lower birth weight with a higher risk to health and development following birth, and of various problems later on in life. Mothers under the age of 24 were generally unaffected by lower birth weight following a later maternity leave, whereas older mothers were much more likely to demonstrate the link.
A relationship was also made between women of lower education and a higher risk of low birth weight, due to their higher percentages in physically demanding positions.
Professor Marco Francesconi, a contributing author to the study, argued that this discovery calls for a change in the laws that govern maternity leave and that mothers should be given greater flexibility around the length and use of their allowed maternity-leave duration. He stated that “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.”