Lack of access to maternity leave and workplace discrimination is contributing to poor mental health in pregnant women according to a new study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology published by Wiley-Blackwell.

The new University of Melbourne study "Employee Entitlements during Pregnancy and Maternal Psychological Well-being" also finds that almost one-fifth of employed women report that they had been discriminated against at work as a result of their pregnancy.

Lead researcher Amanda Cooklin, and colleagues Associate Professor Jane Fisher and Dr Heather Rowe, from the Key Centre for Women's Health in Society, surveyed 165 pregnant Australian women, all of whom were employed during pregnancy before the birth of their first child. Ms Cooklin says, "Women who are discriminated against in pregnancy, and/or have no access to either paid or unpaid maternity leave report measurably more distress, fatigue, anger and anxiety than pregnant women who were not experiencing these forms of adversity."

Of the 165 employed pregnant women surveyed:

- Only 60 per cent had access to unpaid maternity leave, despite current legislation requiring all Australian employees to have access to this entitlement after 12 months of continuous employment;

- Only 46 per cent had access to paid maternity leave while others were forced to rely on sick leave, annual leave or go without income following childbirth.

- Almost one in five women reported pregnancy-related discrimination from their employer in the form of negative or offensive comments or being excluded from promotion or training;

- Women who were more highly educated and employed in managerial or professional jobs were more likely to have access to maternity leave than those in low-skilled, low paid occupations.

"Poor ante-natal emotional health is a known risk factor for mood disturbance after childbirth, so it is very important to understand the range of structural and social factors affecting women's mental health in pregnancy," Ms Cooklin says.

She adds, "Pregnancy-related workplace discrimination is disturbingly prevalent. About 80% of Australian women are employed prior to the birth of their first child, making employment conditions and events salient factors for consideration in assessments of maternal psychological health during pregnancy."

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (ANZJOG) is an editorially independent publication owned by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) and the RANZCOG Research foundation. ANZJOG aims to provide a medium for the publication of original contributions to clinical practice and/or research in all fields of obstetrics and gynaecology and related disciplines. Articles are peer reviewed by clinicians or researchers expert in the field of the submitted work.

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