Home > Editorial, The Industry Cosign > Working Through Final Month Of Pregnancy Is Just As Bad As Smoking: New Study

Working Through Final Month Of Pregnancy Is Just As Bad As Smoking: New Study


by Denene Millner

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And yet another study to remind moms-to-be that America’s maternity leave laws suck donkey booty and need a major overhaul for the sake of our children’s health and a new mom’s recovery and sanity: researchers say that working during your final month of pregnancy is as harmful as smoking.

The research, performed by the University of Essex, showed that just like lighting up, working late into pregnancy leads to newborns that are a half pound smaller than infants whose mothers quit work between their sixth and eighth months of pregnancy. The research, which sampled about 30,000 mothers across three different surveys, including one from the U.S., also showed even more pronounced results for women over age 24 and those with lower levels of education, who were most likely to do more physically demanding work.

Prof. Marco Francesconi, one of the authors of the study, offered this pearl of wisdom: 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,” Francesconi said. “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.”

Problem is, not enough of us here in America have bosses who give a damn like that. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work full-time gigs where we can tack on sick and vacation days to the six weeks worth of unpaid maternity leave guaranteed under federal law mostly save that time for when the baby is born, so that we can bond with our children and recuperate from the trauma of child birth. But all-too-many of us—particularly women of color who toil in part-time positions at the secretary desks, factories, fast food restaurants and malls of the American labor market—don’t even have the six unpaid weeks, which means we’re all most likely working all the way up until the baby’s like, “Dude, seriously, I’m crowning—can you get up from the computer/get off the register/hang up your boss’s phone/put down the two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-and-cheese and go to the hospital, please?” Seriously, outside of Ann Romney—let her tell it, she’s the hardest working mother in America—who gets to take time off BEFORE the baby’s born?

I  know that with both my girlpies, I was fortunate enough to have enough vacation days and sick and unpaid maternity leave to take off nine months with Mari (I put years of unused vacation time to good use) and four months with Lila (I was working at a new job when she was born, so I had less vacation and sick leave to work with than when I had my first child). But in both instances, I worked clean up until I couldn’t work anymore—with about two days to spare before I gave birth to each of them. Because I simply couldn’t afford to leave money on the table, particularly considering most of my maternity leave was unpaid.

Both my daughters, despite excellent healthcare and my vigilance to take care of my body while the two of them were baking, had low birth weights.

Maybe there is something to this research—and perhaps there is something to be said for it as it relates to the severe low birth-weight numbers that plague African American births—a stat that rivals some Third World countries. It’s empowering to know that working through your final month may be as harmful to newborn babies as smoking while pregnant. But what in the world can we actually do with that information when our capitalist society just doesn’t give a single, runny poopy diaper about it?

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