Half of all Dutch pregnant women work under unsafe conditions, putting them at risk of complications (miscarriage, premature birth, high blood pressure). This is according to research from the Department of Obstetrics. "These are not individual cases. It is a serious social problem that needs to be changed in the short term," said APH researcher Monique van Beukering, lead researcher in this project and company physician.

The results of the study are remarkable. For the study, a group of 269 healthy pregnant women with a low risk of complications was followed. The population was representative of Dutch working pregnant women. Detailed data on their working conditions were collected at different times during pregnancy. Half of these healthy pregnant women worked in conditions which were not in line with legal rules and (medical) guidelines. These included physically demanding work, stress, long and irregular working hours, noise, contact with infectious diseases or chemical substances. Women with a lower level of education are particularly at risk of unsafe working conditions as are women working in care, education, childcare, welfare, hospitality, industry, construction and cleaning. Therefore, they are at a higher risk of miscarriage, or a child born too early or too small. In addition, the women are more likely to have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Pregnancy guidelines and laws

Van Beukering: "Research shows that physically demanding work and long working hours increase the risk of premature birth, for example. That's why guidelines and laws have been drawn up on pregnancy and work. If pregnant women follow these guidelines, they can safely continue working until their maternity leave. The first step is to identify the risks in the workplace and the measures to be taken. The company doctor at Amsterdam UMC always discusses this with the pregnant employee. Unfortunately, this does not happen everywhere: research shows that only 15% of pregnant employees are properly informed about the risks during work. It is time that this changed."

The current advice in the legislation and guidelines were drawn up jointly with all parties involved: company doctors, obstetricians, gynecologists, experts from the RIVM, the SER and other representatives of employee and employer organizations. They can be found in the guideline 'Pregnancy, Postpartum period and Work' of the Dutch Association for Occupational Medicine and in the 'Guide to Occupational Health Measures for Pregnancy & Work' of the Social and Economic Council (SER).

Symposium this fall

To give direct shape to the call for change, Van Beukering is organizing a symposium this fall together with gynecologist Marjolein Kok and company doula Ina Heijnen. At the symposium Van Beukering will explain the results of her research. They will also present solutions and enter into discussion with politicians, insurance companies, company doctors, midwives, gynaecologists and representatives of working pregnant women and their employers.

Read the article (in Dutch) here.
Read the paper here.