The potential health impacts of pregnancy and maternity discrimination

by Amy Leversidge

Published: 31 Jul 2015

The publication of the Commission’s report ‘Pregnancy and Maternity Related Discrimination and Disadvantage’ showed disturbingly high rates of discrimination against pregnant women. While the report makes for depressing reading we welcome the fact that the report has been published so we can deal with these problems head on and find solutions. Discrimination at work can cause stress, anxiety and depression which can potentially have an impact on the health of the woman and her baby.

The report showed many alarming findings, in particular, that one in five mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and / or colleagues and that 10% of mothers said their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.

Pregnancy and maternity is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Women have the right not to be dismissed or made redundant for pregnancy related reasons and there are various other maternity rights including the right for paid time off for antenatal care and a health and safety risk assessment plus adjustments to make the workplace safe.

The right to time off to attend antenatal appointments is vital to ensure that women are able to access early antenatal care and for continuous assessment and advice during pregnancy. During the antenatal appointments the midwife will give women valuable advice around smoking, nutrition and exercise and will carry out essential screening tests and identify whether the woman needs extra care. Antenatal appointments give women the opportunity to talk to their midwife and ask questions or discuss any issues they may have. They will be able to ask the midwife questions about how the baby is developing and discuss their birth plan. Evidence shows that missing antenatal appointments can increase the risk of smaller babies, premature babies, miscarriages and still birth. This is particularly important for women with complex health needs.

The RCM is preparing guidance for midwives on this issue so they are aware of the findings of the report. As a member of the TUC we have sought the campaigning support of other unions through one of our first motions to the TUC Congress in September.

We want to see the Government act to ensure pregnant women are not denied their rights and they are not discriminated against. This can lead to costly implications for the NHS but most importantly it can have potentially devastating effects on the health of the woman and her baby.