Need for Extensive Pregnancy Benefits Questioned
By Megan Rauscher
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – For pregnant women who work outside the home, rest — provided in some countries by the combination of taking time off from work and government-supported social benefits — does not appear to lead to bigger, and, therefore, perhaps healthier babies, according to a study conducted in Sweden.
It’s been argued that working outside the home while pregnant might harm the mother and developing infant. This has led some developed countries like Sweden, but not the United States, Australia or New Zealand, to provide paid maternity leave long before the delivery date, as well as other health benefits.
For example, the pregnancy benefits were expanded in Sweden from 270 days in 1978 to 450 days in 1989. Pregnant women may also take 50 of these days before the estimated delivery date.
But when a group of Swedish doctors reviewed the files of 7,459 women who delivered infants between 1978 and 1997 at two hospitals in southeastern Sweden, they failed to find a relationship between the social benefits granted and the infant’s birth weight.
There was a steady and significant increase in the average birth weight of the infants and a stable duration of pregnancy after 1986, which was unrelated to the amount of social support used, report Dr. Adam Sydsj from Faculty of Health Sciences, in Linkoping, and colleagues in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
This study does not support the assumption that social benefits during normal pregnancies will help prolong pregnancy and therefore lead to an increase in infant’s birth weight, they point out.
“The results of our study indicate that the effects of social benefits may be overrated in modern society with good working conditions,” Sydsj told Reuters Health.
“It must be remembered,” he added, “that most benefits were introduced in Sweden some 30 years ago and that society as well as the labor market may since then have been subjected to changes.”
“The need for any amendments in social benefits should, for this reason, be subjected to an investigation before introduction, and already existing benefits would perhaps serve the pregnant working women better if they were reconstructed and designed to comply with the actual working conditions.”
SOURCE: Obstetrics and Gynecology, May 2006.