Background: In Sweden, sick leave is taken more frequently by pregnant women than by nonpregnant women. This led us to ask if the taking of sick leave during pregnancy could possibly be explained by attitudes to sickness absence held among obstetricians working in antenatal care.
Methods: All obstetricians (n = 45) engaged in public antenatal care and at work in May 2001 in seven hospitals in South Eastern Sweden were asked to anonymously respond to questions/statements concerning their work; 87% participated. The results were presented as percent (the median value) on a visual analog scale.
Results: In 60% of all contacts with pregnant women issues such as working conditions, sickness absence or benefit programs were discussed besides the actual pregnancy. In 46% the obstetricians stated that they could not exactly pinpoint a correct medical diagnosis motivating a sickness certificate asked for by the pregnant woman. As the majority of the obstetricians (74%) often did not like to conform to the pregnant women's wishes, unpleasant situations were not uncommon (56%). A conflict was experienced in the dual role that the obstetrician had as the patient's confidant on the one hand and as a representative or gatekeeper for the social security system on the other. Male and female obstetricians did not differ in their opinions on their handling of pregnant women with regard to taking sick leave but for one issue, back pain.
Conclusions: The high degree of work dealing with sickness absence and social benefits at the Antenatal Care Centers seems to have a negative effect on the obstetrician's evaluation of their work environment. The obstetricians' opinion is that pregnant women are sick-listed too frequently, but obstetricians comply as a rule to the women's wishes in order to avoid conflict.