By Sarah Moyer, MD
When Kentucky’s new Pregnant Workers Act goes into effect, our state will be taking a huge step toward improving birth outcomes and children’s health, by guaranteeing reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant workers and those who have recently given birth.
Maternal health is crucial to the future health and success of a woman’s child. Babies born prematurely or at low birth weights are at much greater risk for chronic health conditions that can impact them throughout their lives, including heart disease and diabetes, as well as the ability to concentrate and thrive academically.
The relationship between the working environment and its impact on pregnancy is significant. According to 2013 U.S. Census data, 62 percent of women were working while they carried their developing child.
Our Center for Health Equity conducted a Health Impact Assessment on the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Act when it was introduced. A Health impact Assessment is a process that brings together scientific data, health expertise and public input to identify potential health effects of proposed laws and regulations, programs, and projects.
We spoke with stakeholders and conducted a comprehensive review of existing data on the health impacts of working while pregnant to provide a more thorough understanding of how certain work environments can impact health. We also looked at evidence for the types of accommodations that can be made to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for pregnant workers and their developing children.
What the evidence proved is that making reasonable accommodations in the workplace can improve birth outcomes and help infants flourish. For example:
- Reducing heavy lifting, bending or standing can prevent pre-term birth.
- Reducing exposure to continuously loud noises may prevent hearing loss in infants.
- Allowing a pregnant mom consistent access to water helps her maintain a healthy pregnancy
- Providing a safe, private space for a postpartum mom to pump breastmilk helps her prevent mastitis and ensures a healthy flow of the most nutritious food source possible.
The ability to maintain employment during pregnancy is critical for the health and wellbeing of a mother and her developing child. Income provides for food, housing, and access to healthcare. Allowing pregnant workers to request reasonable accommodations for the physical transitions of pregnancy can both help alleviate health concerns and allow pregnant workers to continue earning an income during this important stage of life.
The Kentucky Pregnant Workers Act helps to ensure that any woman can work to support her family without risking the health of her pregnancy and developing child. Workers and employers who want to learn more about the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Act can find a helpful fact sheet at abetterbalance.org/resources.
I encourage pregnant and post women to speak with their employers to advocate for themselves and their developing children’s needs. When employers and employees work together to create a plan, pregnant workers stay healthy and continue to be part of a strong workforce.
– Sarah Moyer, MD, a family practice physician, is the director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and Chief Health Strategist for Mayor Greg Fischer.