The upcoming article by Christine Dunkel Schetter outlines a number of difficulties that may negatively impact the infant’s birth weight and duration of the pregnancy. The sources of stressors outlined in the article are broad, including financial stressors, problems in ones romantic relationships, family responsibilities, employment conditions, and pregnancy-related concerns. Both episodic and chronic stressors appear to have such a strong negative impact on the infant’s development and health. This may put parents in a difficult position, as many parents may want to take on extra work in preparation for a maternity leave or get the house in order for the new arrival. This may not necessary be stressful for all people, but it is likely that general concerns about pregnancy coupled with extra work in the home and in one’s career can add up to be quite a stressful experience. Women have made tremendous gains in establishing work outside of the home, which has led to increased commitments to one’s career and many women hold positions of power within their work organization. Focus on these roles during pregnancy may lead to increased stressors – and perhaps could be detrimental to the health of the developing infant.
While I am not suggesting that the solution is for women to cease all activities during pregnancy, it is clear that stress reduction should be a goal. From a policy perspective, it would be ideal for the pregnancy period to be treated more generously by employers. This crucial time in infant development appears to have gone largely overlooked in terms of legal intervention providing a standard for individuals during this phase. We applaud countries and companies that provide generous programs for mothers (and fathers) following the birth of a child. Many U.S. organizations have programs to support employees who are parents with maternity or paternity leave (although many do not), but rarely is the same level of focus placed on pre-birth care. It appears that the nine months prior to the birth merit consideration in terms of workload reduction.
I fear, though, that if such a movement were to happen, women would lose as well as gain. Potential “reasonable” arguments could be made against hiring women based on the potential loss of productivity both during and after pregnancy. Employers may understandably want the most productive workforce available, and hiring practices may further result in biases against female employees. Treating women differently, even while pregnant, may subtly reinforce the stereotype that women are weak. This issue appears complex, although merits much further consideration and discussion. In lieu of a complete overall of employment regulations, perhaps stress reduction or group therapy could be emphasized an essential pregnancy companion. Group therapy targeting pregnancy anxiety may be a worthwhile public health initiative, especially in high-risk groups.