Is Working Shifts Harming Your Health?

by Jaleesa Jones

Aspiring and expectant mothers may want to reconsider their work schedules. New research suggests that shift work may increase a woman's risk of menstrual and fertility problems, and steady night shifts may raise the odds for miscarriage.

As reported by Medline Plus, British researchers conducted a meta-analysis on shift work and reproduction published between 1969 and 2013. The data from more than 119,000 women revealed that those working shifts (alternating shifts, evenings and nights) had a 33 percent higher risk of menstrual problems and an 80 percent higher risk of fertility problems than those who worked regular hours. What's more? Women who worked only nights had a higher rate of miscarriage.

Researchers offered a number of explanations for the findings: Shift work disrupts the body's natural circadian rhythm, consequently impairing biological function (that includes the reproductive system). Stress was also cited as a factor. Fluctuating stress levels can destabilize female hormone production, leading to poor reproductive outcomes, such as menstrual irregularities, premature labor, and low birth weights.

OK, but what's the solution for the everyday woman who is denied flex-time and cannot afford to quit her job?

Study author Linden Stocker explains that the danger of shift work can be minimized by taking proper precautions. "Maintaining a healthy body-weight, ensuring adequate exercise levels, and eating a well-balanced diet are as important, if not more so, in shift workers as the rest of the population. However, these factors often get neglected when women work shifts," says Stocker. In other words, ladies? Basic self-care is indispensable during pregnancy, regardless of your work hours.

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