Night work during pregnancy and preterm birth-A large register-based cohort study

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BACKGROUND: Melatonin stimulates the production of progesterone, which is essential for the maintenance of pregnancy. Since melatonin in blood is reduced due to work under illuminated conditions during night work, it has been hypothesized that night work may increase the risk of preterm birth. Previous meta-analyses have not revealed increased risk of preterm birth in women working night shifts during pregnancy. Still, these studies might have been limited by inaccurate self-reports of timing, intensity and duration of night work most likely causing bias towards the null. The aim of this is study was to investigate if the frequency and duration of night work during the first (week 1-12) and second (week 13-22) trimester of pregnancy were associated with risk of preterm birth when objective and prospective data on night work are used.

METHOD: In a register-based prospective cohort study, we obtained individual day-to-day information on working hours from The Danish Working Hour Database (DWHD, a payroll database including all public service employees in administrative Danish Regions from 2007-2013) and information on preterm birth from the Danish Medical Birth Registry. Night-shift was defined as at least three working hours between 23:00 and 06:00. Preterm birth was defined as giving birth during gestational weeks 23-37. Odds of preterm birth according to working night shifts were analysed by logistic regression.

RESULTS: We identified 16,501 pregnant women eligible for the study, of which 10,202 women (61.8%) had at least one night-shift during the first 22 gestational weeks. The risk of preterm birth was not elevated among women working night shifts compared to women working only day shifts during either the first or second trimester. Within night-shift workers, the risk was not related to the number of night shifts, the duration of night shifts, consecutive night shifts or quick returns defined as short intervals between shifts. Odds of preterm birth was not related to change of working schedule from the first to second trimester, although women changing from night shifts in the first trimester to day work only in the second trimester displayed a weak increased odds of preterm birth (OR 1.21, 95%CI 0.98-1.49) compared to women working night shifts in both trimesters.

CONCLUSION: Our results, which are without bias from self-report of either exposure or outcome, are in line with the results of previous meta-analyses. Due to the detailed information on hours worked during pregnancy, we were able to investigate several dimensions of night work not previously investigated, of which none were associated with elevated risk of preterm birth.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)e0215748
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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