Mother's Job Can Increase Child's Risk of Asthma
The U.S. offers women no paid maternity leave. When Harvard and McGill studied maternity leave in 181 countries, the U.S. was one of only three countries that failed to guarantee leave with any compensation. The others were Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. There are potential health risks, speculated the researchers. A new study shows that they might be right.
Scientists from the School of Public Health in Denmark have found a link between pregnant women who work with car parts, furniture, shoes, paints or glue and an increased likelihood that their children would suffer from asthma, reports the Daily Mail.
The study examined 43,000 7-year-olds, and 5.8 percent of the children overall had asthma. But after isolating those children whose mothers had worked in an environment with "low molecular-weight substances," that number rose to 18.6 percent. The researchers controlled for many other variables, including the mother's age and weight, whether she smoked, medication use, and animal exposure.
The difference is small, but not insignificant. This is the first experiment of its kind to determine any connection between a mother's occupation and her child's asthma risk. The director of the study, Dr. Berit Hvass Christensen, said: "our results at this stage are modest and further research is needed into specific chemicals and substances to determine those that could be most harmful."
Other studies have similarly hinted at the potential dangers of working through pregnancy. Research at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health found that cosmetologists, exposed to all the toxins in makeup and nail polishes, were almost twice as likely to have a miscarriage.
Hairdressers, touching and inhaling so many dyes and sprays, appear to be passing on risks to their unborn child. Researchers at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands found that a baby was almost four times as likely to be mentally retarded if the mother was a hairdresser who worked through certain months of her pregnancy. Of 76 children with neural tube defects, studied by two scientists in Venezuela, 13.6 percent had hairdressers for mothers. Hairdressers composed only 1.3 percent of the control group.
Earlier this year, the Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research found that the number of stressful events experienced during pregnancy correlated with greater behavioral problems in children.
"Two or fewer stresses during pregnancy are not associated with poor child behavioral development," observed the lead researcher, Dr. Monique Robinson. "But as the number of stresses increase to three or more, then the risks of more difficult child behavior increase."
Research is this area is still incomplete, but the snippets from South America to Australia pile up. Clearly in particular occupations, a mother is increasing the health risks of her child by working throughout her pregnancy. Many mothers, however, have no choice but to do so, since U.S. law mandates only 12 weeks unpaid leave. Certain businesses are of course more generous, however. New moms at Google, for example, can take off 4½ months with full salary, and dads can take a leave of seven weeks, plus expenses up to $500 for takeout. There hasn't been any research yet on links between fetal health and MSG.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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