Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: Is sitting on your chuff akin to having a puff?

Working during the later stages of pregnancy may result in babies born with low birth weights, a study has found. Photo / Thinkstock
Working during the later stages of pregnancy may result in babies born with low birth weights, a study has found. Photo / Thinkstock

It's a pity modern life, particularly modern pregnancy, is so complicated. This week, the news that working past your eighth month of pregnancy has the same effect on your unborn child as smoking will be cold comfort to every woman trying to shore up as much maternity leave as possible before she can get stuck into the long nights of feeding and recovery ahead.

The Guardian reports that three economists, published in the Journal of Labour Economics from the University of Chicago, found that women had babies that were on average 230g lighter when they worked past eight months - the same kind of differential for women who had smoked throughout their pregnancies. The problem was more pronounced in older mums, and, as you'd expect, more marked for women working physically demanding jobs.

But older women sitting at computer screens were also registering an effect of their otherwise sedentary working days - as anyone approaching 40 who has tried to be heavily pregnant and at the office can confirm.

I can personally attest to having an entirely numb bottom half, extreme carpal tunnel syndrome and barely being able to make it up a flight of stairs to my desk!

My baby was extremely low birthweight - just over six pounds - as he had basically stopped growing. Not solely because of my eight hours at the office perhaps, but at the time I remember feeling that the position was an unnatural and exhausting one for a heavily pregnant women (even though it was only sitting on your chuff).

The upshot of a tiny baby can be no laughing matter. The Guardian says past research suggests "babies with low birth weights are at higher risk of poor health and slow development, and may suffer from a variety of problems later in life".

With over 30,000 women studied altogether, in both the US and the UK, the results seem pretty robust. But the conclusion the study authors come to - that women need more flexible maternity leave that they can take both before and after the birth of their babies - doesn't seem overly realistic in the current economic climate.

It would be fantastic if women could structure their lives (with their partners) to ensure that their babies got lots of relaxing time to grow in the womb and plenty of time to bond and feed with mum after the birth. But with the current feeling strongly tipped towards the "you breed 'em, you feed 'em" mentality, plus a stalled economy, New Zealand employers, unfortunately, have little incentive to ensure their females employees have the kind of flexibility their babies could do with.

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