Sick leave and medication use in pregnancy: a European web-based study

BMJ Open. 2017 Aug 3;7(8):e014934. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014934.


Background and objective: A comparison of sick leave in pregnancy between countries is difficult as most studies have been conducted in single countries in Scandinavia. The objective of this study was to explore patterns of and reasons for sick leave during pregnancy on a multinational level, focusing on medication use but also differences in sick leave policies.

Design and setting: Cross-sectional, web-based study in 12 European countries from October 2011 to February 2012. Data were collected via an electronic questionnaire.

Participants: Pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of 1 year.

Primary outcome measure: Sick leave prevalence in pregnancy.

Results: Of 6686 women included, 3385 (50.6%) had been on sick leave during pregnancy. The rates of sick leave varied across countries, ranging from 31.7%-34.8% in Sweden and the UK to 62.4%-71.3% in Norway, Serbia, Croatia and Poland. The most common reasons for being on sick leave were pregnancy complications (26.5%); pain in the neck, back or pelvic girdle (16.2%); and nausea and vomiting (NVP, 16.0%). Women using medications for acute illnesses were more likely to be on sick leave than their non-medicated counterparts, while an opposite trend was observed for women with chronic disorders, where non-medicated women were more likely to be on sick leave. Women from countries with 'low' sick leave policies were less likely to have extensions of sick leaves compared with women from countries with 'medium' policies (adjusted OR 0.63, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.82).

Conclusion: The rates of sick leave in pregnancy vary greatly across European countries. Women using medications were more likely to be on sick leave, especially for acute illnesses. The differences in sick leave patterns across countries only partially reflected differences in sick leave policies, which implies that sick leave in pregnancy is also affected by other national differences.

Keywords: Sick leave; maternal medicine; pregnancy; public health.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Back Pain / drug therapy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nausea / drug therapy
  • Neck Pain / drug therapy
  • Pelvic Pain / drug therapy
  • Policy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vomiting / drug therapy
  • Young Adult