Most pregnant women take an average of two months sick leave, according to a controversial new study released today.
The research, published in a leading medical journal, suggests that the majority of expectant mothers need between four and 16 weeks off work because of problems including fatigue, sleep issues, pelvic girdle pain and nausea.
But the experts behind the report say the answer is for employers to create more flexible work conditions, as this significantly decreases women’s need to take time off ill.
Norwegian researchers surveyed nearly 3,000 women at weeks 17 and 32 of pregnancy. Of those women, more than 75 per cent had required some sick leave.
This ranged from one to 40 weeks, with the average amount of time off being eight weeks. More women needed time off the further their pregnancies progressed: by 32 weeks 63 per cent of the women were on sick leave.
The most common reasons were fatigue and sleep problems, according to 35 per cent of the women, followed closely by pelvic girdle pain for 32 per cent and nausea or vomiting for 23 per cent.
Only 2.1 per cent cited anxiety or depression as a reason, although these women needed the longest average of sick leave at 20 weeks.
But the study also found that those women whose employers had offered more flexible working patterns tended to take an average seven days less off sick.
Dr Signe Dorheim, co-author of the paper and a psychiatrist at Norway’s Stavanger University, said: “We found that a large number of pregnant women take time off work as sick leave. The factors associated with sick leave varied according to the trimester of pregnancy but some of these factors are not necessarily caused by pregnancy alone.
“While past medical history and socioeconomic conditions can influence the occurrence and length of time taken off as sick leave, women’s working situations during pregnancy were significant contributors to our findings.
“Women who suffer from work-related fatigue, such as insomnia, are likely to require more time off, especially during late pregnancy.
“Further research is needed to look at how treatment of certain conditions and work adjustments can lead to less time being taken off work and ultimately a better quality of life for pregnant women.”
John Thorp, deputy editor-in-chief of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which published the study, added that Norway offered very good compensation to workers who take time off due to illness, which could have influenced the findings.
But he said: “The factors that affect pregnant women in the workplace are universal and this study shows a clear link between working conditions and the duration of sick leave, which highlights the potential benefits for employers to have a support system in place.
“Pregnancy is a normal physiological state, however, it can affect women in different ways. If a woman is concerned she should talk to her employer, GP or midwife for support.”