Working a full day while pregnant can feel exhausting, particularly when you add a long commute to and from work to your day. And if recent research into pregnancy and commuting is any indication, employers may want to look twice at flexible and remote working situations if they want to attract and keep employees with growing families.
There are so many benefits to remote work for pretty much everyone, but there's a major benefit to pregnant employees. Cutting commutes can result in healthier pregnancies.
Now, don't be alarmed if you travel a short or moderate distance to work every day, but a new study, which appears in Economics & Human Biology, suggests that pregnant women who commute at least 50 miles are at greater risk of delivering low birth weight babies or experiencing restricted fetal growth.
This risk seems to increase for every additional 10 miles traveled, but due to the way the working world is currently structured, many mamas do have to commit to long commutes during pregnancy. Motherly co-founder Jill Koziol was one of them.
"I distinctly remember being pregnant with my first daughter and commuting two hours a day as a consultant in Washington, D.C. It was hard on my growing body, leading me to seek chiropractic care, and toward the end of my pregnancy, made me nervous to be so far from home and the hospital—but, that's the reality for many mamas," says Koziol.
While a long commute lead Koziol to seek chiropractic care, this new research suggests these journeys to and from work can actually decrease a mother's odds of getting proper prenatal care—moms with long commutes appear less likely to visit a doctor for a first trimester checkup or even throughout their pregnancies, probably because they are just so crunched for time (and tired).
It's important to remember that a long commute certainly doesn't mean you'll run into pregnancy complications, that's just the trend researchers observed in this particular population of pregnant commuters from New Jersey in 2014 and 2015. The average commute was 64 miles, and the commuters spent an average of 78 minutes traveling to work.
While most pregnant women make between 10 and 15 medical visits through their pregnancies, the moms in this sample attended 11 visits on average, and 15% did not make it to a first-trimester appointment at all.
Long commutes impact prenatal care
"The finding that low birth weight might be associated with a source of stress like long-distance commuting is somewhat expected, since chronic strain has been found to be linked to adverse birth outcomes," says Muzhe Yang, Associate Professor of Economics at Lehigh University and co-author of the study. "However, it was surprising to find an association with under-use of prenatal care among pregnant women commuting long-distance."
The idea that stress may be behind this link probably doesn't shock many people. After all, we've all heard that pregnant women should avoid stress whenever possible — just like we all know this isn't always an option. We live in a society where stress and burnout are huge concerns, and these findings may add another layer to the ongoing conversation about the importance of workplace flexibility.
Remote work could benefit pregnant employees and employers
The ability to work remotely, either full or part-time, is majorly attractive to most employees — but for new and expectant moms, it can be imperative. Contending with a daily commute can just make it that much harder for a pregnant woman to carve out time for her own health. It can force a mother who is placed on bed rest to start her maternity leave well before she delivers. It can be a factor in a new mom choosing to leave her job altogether.
This is bad news for employers because retaining talented, skilled workers helps minimize the costs associated with employee turnover.
And yes, commuting can be bad for expecting mothers, making a stressful time that much more stressful, and potentially contributing to the outcomes as outlined in this study.
Of course, not every pregnant woman has the ability to work remotely, and these findings may not even refer to expectant moms who have shorter commutes. But for those of us who can essentially get our jobs done from anywhere, should remote work be an option? Some employers are saying yes.
Motherly is on the cutting edge of an important trend
Modern companies appear more and more tapped into the value of workplace flexibility—take Bumble, for example. Founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd reportedly began rethinking her own company's policies during her own pregnancy.
Meanwhile, at Motherly, Koziol and her co-founder, Liz Tenety, have created a company that is 100% remote. "With a growing team of more than 30, we've found that we are on the cutting edge of an important trend for workplaces. Research shows that companies with a substantial remote workforce have a higher percentage of women in leadership roles, which amounts to roughly four times as many women in CEO/founding roles than S&P 500 office-based companies."
Remote work is good for Motherly's employees and its bottom line—and no one has to commute, pregnant or otherwise.