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Your 9-to-5 Is Hurting Your Baby’s Health, New Study Says

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Updated March 2, 2017
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A hop, skip and jump across the pond, where the paella is better than you’d even imagine, Spanish researchers have delivered some seriously sucky news: Moms who choose not work have healthier babies. Which means that working moms are less likely to have healthy babies. Insert sad face here.

Behind study author Libertad González, the associate professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, researchers examined the health of registered newborns in Spain from 1981 until 2010. From that data, they cross-referenced the information collected against the rate of unemployment in the country during that time. She found that with each 10 percent increase in unemployment, the neonatal death rate dropped by seven percent. She also noted that as unemployment rose, low birth weight babies decreased by 3 percent.

González noted that during recession periods, mothers consistently reported being in “better health” and even “exhibited healthier behaviors.” She noted that mothers “smoke and drink less, exercise and sleep more, and even weigh less.” But determining infant health in Spain was only González’s first stop. Her results match up to research performed in the US, too.

In a study completed in 2004, US researchers found that American babies born into high unemployment rates had fewer birth defects, were more likely to weigh a healthy amount at birth and after and were less likely to pass away after birth. And in yet another study led by Chris Ruhm, a team out of the University of Virginia found that people tend to exercise less during economic upswings and they tend to eat out more. Plus, people who work less have more time on their hands so they sleep more, feel less stressed and spend less time on the road, which results in cleaner air and less accidents. He told The Atlantic, “Interestingly, there’s evidence that short-term reductions in income are actually good for you.” But here’s the kicker: “When times are bad, people are healthier but not happier.”

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The study admits that health improves only when the economy as a whole slows down — not on a case-by-case basis. Plus, they also say that people tend to have fewer babies during recessions, so if hospitals are less busy during these times, perhaps they have more time to care for each newborn — and more time to spend prepping new mothers for the journey they’re stepping into.

So is a healthier mom better than a happier mom? Is it even fair to pit the two against each other? (No, it’s not.)

The problem that persists is this idea that working mothers can’t have it all — and González’s study, however indirectly, agrees with that sentiment. In a time when it’s important to celebrate a woman’s ability to be a great employee and a great caregiver — because wearing two hats is something women so seamlessly succeed at doing any and every day — we’re, instead, shaking a fist at her for “jeopardizing” the health of her baby back home.

Do you think being a working mom has made your kids less healthy?

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