Research/studies Worker health and wellness

‘A silent stressor’: Many pregnant workers say they risk their health, safety to avoid being stereotyped

Photo: MaxRiesgo/iStockphoto

Vancouver, WA — Nearly 2 out of 3 pregnant workers say they stress about being stereotyped as weak or less committed to their job, leading many to conceal their pregnancies and overperform – in turn, risking their health and safety as well as that of their unborn child, according to a recent study.

A pair of researchers from Washington State University surveyed pregnant workers in physically demanding jobs at three different times over a two-month span, starting with a group of more than 400. The respondents, who were all at different stages of pregnancy, worked in various industries, including health care, manufacturing and retail.

Among the risky behaviors the women said they took part in to avoid being stereotyped were lifting heavy objects and standing for long periods of time. Further, women who reported a higher stereotype threat had almost three times as many work-related incidents at the end of the study period compared with those who felt a relatively low stereotype threat. Moreover, fears of confirming the stereotypes also increased.

“The pregnancy stereotype is a silent stressor,” lead study author Lindsey Lavaysse said in a June 29 press release. “It is not always visible, but it really impacts women in the workplace.” Lavaysse and co-author Tahira Probst, a WSU psychology professor, noted that most workplaces have policies in place to accommodate pregnant workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adds that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 “forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment.”

Still, Lavaysse said, “if the organization’s culture suggests there will be retaliation or that workers will be looked upon differently, then women will shy away from using accommodations that are better for their health and safety.”


Lavaysse and Probst recommend better social support for pregnant workers and following maternity leave policies. They also say further study is needed to investigate possible variables that might mitigate some of the negative stigma surrounding pregnancy while working.

The study was published online June 5 in the journal Work and Stress.

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