“It’s time for employers and politicians to recognize that pregnancy is hard.”
— Avra Siegel, former deputy director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, in her 2016 Fortune essay, “The Brutal Truth About Being a Pregnant Worker”
It’s no secret that the United States lags the rest of the developed world when it comes to policies that support mothers and families. As former President Barack Obama put it in 2014: “Family leave. Child care. Flexibility. These aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be the bottom line.”
Five years and little progress later, we’re learning more and more about the toll inflexible work cultures have on new and expectant mothers.
Last fall, a New York Times investigation exposed the devastating cost of pregnancy discrimination on women in physically demanding jobs. Now, a new study has explored the dangers of a long commute on pregnant women and their unborn babies. The longer the commute, the study found, the worse the impact.
The study, recently published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Lehigh University, suggests that women who travel 50 or more miles each way to work by car may be at a “much greater risk” of having low-birth-weight babies (under 5.5 pounds) as well as fetuses with intrauterine growth restriction — a condition, in which the fetus doesn’t grow as fast as expected, that’s generally associated with mothers who have diabetes, high blood pressure, malnutrition or infections including syphilis.
Worse, for every 10 miles of travel distance added to a long commute, the probability of low birth weight goes up by 0.9 percentage points and the probability of intrauterine growth restriction rises by 0.6 percentage points, according to the study, which looked at pregnant women in New Jersey (a state with some of the longest commute times in the nation).
It did not conclude what might be causing these adverse outcomes, but it found that pregnant women with long commutes were more likely to miss doctor appointments and delay treatment. Among these women, 15 percent skipped their first prenatal checkup or put off their first prenatal visit — some as late as their third trimester.
It also suggested that maternal stress, exacerbated by commuting, might be a factor.
The researchers said they hoped their work would lead to policy changes to expand maternity leave to include the prenatal period. For pregnant women with long commutes, time off can be “particularly important,” they wrote.
By the Numbers
That’s how many Americans believe men are better suited emotionally for politics than most women, according to a new report from Georgetown University. That number is down considerably from 1975, when almost 50 percent of Americans doubted that women were emotionally fit for politics. Read the full report here.
What else is happening
Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.
- “At first, it all went according to script.” Brazil requires that at least 30 percent of each party’s candidates be women, but that did little to boost the participation of women. [Read the story]
- “Misleading, falsely reassuring results from their incomplete testing can cost women’s lives.” Don’t count on 23andMe to detect most breast cancer risks, a study warns. [Read the story]
- “A lot of girls ask me, ‘How do I get what I want?’ By asking.” Cardi B talks about financial literacy and how more women in beauty can “chase the bag.” [Read the story]
- “They told me I was overreacting.” Patricia Ione Lloyd’s original play “Cold Hands Warm Heart” is a dystopian story about women’s health care, written for T Magazine’s Culture issue. [Read the story]
- “The day that I flew on Air Force One with Bruce Springsteen was a biggie for me.” Helene Cooper talks about her experience as a Pentagon correspondent for The Times. [Read the story]
From the archives, 1973: ‘Women should no longer be afraid or ashamed.’
“The stress that our society places on the working mother is difficult to appreciate until you actually experience it,” Dr. Sally E. Shaywitz, a pediatrician, wrote in a 1973 New York Times Magazine article titled “Catch 22 for Mothers.”
In the article, Shaywitz described the climate for working mothers at the time, including the pressure to work like men in order to compete with men.
At a dinner that Shaywitz attended with female colleagues, for example, the conversation turned to boasts about who had been able to leave their baby the fastest and get back to work — an approach “applauded by the feminists” of the era, she wrote.
“In essence, we were telling each other what society had told us: If you want to mother and to work, your external gratification will be based on how much you can deny your maternal instincts,” she wrote.
In many ways, Shaywitz was ahead of her time, her thoughts more in line with feminism today. A mother’s desire to be with her child should be “acknowledged as a valid need,” she wrote. “Women should no longer have to go, head bowed, to their superiors asking for extra time off to be with their children.”