FIFO raises pregnancy stress: study
Pregnant partners of fly-in, fly-out workers experience higher levels of stress than women whose partners do regular shift work, according to new research, and the correlation could have damaging effects on unborn children’s development.
The Curtin University research, published in the Women and Birth Journal, found pregnant women exhibited increased levels of stress when their partners worked on a high-compression roster of three weeks away and one week at home.
Co-author Dr Garth Kendall said women were vulnerable to the effects of stress during pregnancy and the absence of a partner could be an additional risk to their wellbeing.
“We analysed 394 families including FIFO workers, non-FIFO regular schedule workers, and non-FIFO irregular schedule workers to determine whether there was an association between pregnant women’s report of stress and their partners working away,” he said.
“We found that pregnant partners of FIFO workers perceived their lives to be more stressful than women whose partner works non-FIFO regular schedules, especially when their partner worked away for longer periods of time with shorter breaks in between.”
Dr Kendall said the research had important implications for the health and wellbeing of pregnant women whose partners spent time away, as it was likely to have longterm health consequences for both the mother and child.
“A great deal of time spent alone and being separated from one’s partner may be a barrier to the formation of trusting, reciprocal relationships that are especially important for the mental health of pregnant women,” he said.
“Our findings suggest the perceived economic benefits of the work arrangements are possibly overshadowed by the potential negative consequences for families.”
He said high levels of stress and anxiety often led to a range of other health and behavioural issues that could affect the development of the child.
“People who are stressed are more likely to experience depression and post-natal depression,” and are also more likely to be involved in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, drinking or eating highly processed food to deal with the negative feelings,” Dr Kendall said.
“There is also a potential for women’s cortisol to go up, and this hormone circulating through their bodies is likely to impact on the development of the unborn child’s stress response.”
Dr Kendall said it was important for pregnant women to seek emotional support from family and friends, particularly if their partners were often absent.
“Women who are experiencing significant stress and have real concerns should also see a health professional,” he said.