Pregnancy in the workplace

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Background Women constitute a large percentage of the workforce in industrialized countries. As a result, addressing pregnancy-related health issues in the workplace is important in order to formulate appropriate strategies to promote and protect maternal and infant health.

Aims To explore issues affecting pregnant women in the workplace.

Methods A systematic literature review was conducted using Boolean combinations of the terms ‘pregnant women’, ‘workplace’ and ‘employment’ for publications from January 1990 to November 2010. Studies that explicitly explored pregnancy in the workplace within the UK, USA, Canada or the European Union were included.

Results Pregnancy discrimination was found to be prevalent and represented a large portion of claims brought against employers by women. The relationship between environmental risks and exposures at work with foetal outcomes was inconclusive. In general, standard working conditions presented little hazard to infant health; however, pregnancy could significantly impact a mother’s psychosocial well-being in the workplace.

Conclusions Core recommendations to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and improve workplace conditions for women include: (i) shifting organizational culture to support women in pregnancy; (ii) conducting early screening of occupational risk during the preconception period and (iii) monitoring manual labour conditions, including workplace environment and job duties.

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