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Work activities and risk of prematurity, low birth weight and pre-eclampsia: an updated review with meta-analysis
  1. Keith T Palmer1,
  2. Matteo Bonzini2,
  3. E Clare Harris1,
  4. Cathy Linaker1,
  5. Jens Peter Bonde3
  1. 1MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK
  2. 2Department of Experimental Medicine, Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine Research Centre, University of Insubria, Varese, Italy
  3. 3Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Bispebjerg Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Professor Keith T Palmer, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK; ktp{at}


Objectives We assessed the evidence relating preterm delivery (PTD), low birth weight, small for gestational age (SGA), pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension to five occupational exposures (working hours, shift work, lifting, standing and physical workload). We conducted a systematic search in Medline and Embase (1966 to 2011), updating a previous search with a further 6 years of observations.

Methods As before, combinations of keywords and medical subject headings were used. Each relevant paper was assessed for completeness of reporting and potential for important bias or confounding, and its effect estimates abstracted. Where similar definitions of exposure and outcome existed we calculated pooled estimates of relative risk (RR) in meta-analysis.

Results Analysis was based on 86 reports (32 cohort investigations, 57 with usable data on PTD, 54 on birth weight and 11 on pre-eclampsia/gestational hypertension); 33 reports were new to this review. For PTD, findings across a substantial evidence base were generally consistent, effectively ruling out large effects (eg, RR>1.2). Larger and higher quality studies were less positive, while meta-estimates of risk were smaller than in previous analyses and best estimates pointed to modest or null effects (RR 1.04 to 1.18). For SGA, the position was similar but meta-estimates were even closer to the null (eight of nine RRs≤1.07). For pre-eclampsia/gestational hypertension the evidence base remains insufficient.

Conclusions The balance of evidence is against large effects for the associations investigated. As the evidence base has grown, estimates of risk in relation to these outcomes have become smaller.

  • pregnancy
  • occupation
  • review

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