Congenital defects and work in pregnancy

Br J Ind Med. 1988 Sep;45(9):581-8. doi: 10.1136/oem.45.9.581.


The risk of congenital defect was examined in 47,913 pregnancies of women employed for 15 hours a week or more at time of conception. The rate of defects of all types per 1000 births in this series was 25.0; 1.8 from defects classified as chromosomal (group A), 10.8 as developmental (group B), and 12.5 as musculoskeletal (group C). Some evidence of an excess in the risk ratio (p less than 0.05) was found in the services sector and in four occupations--agriculture and horticulture (2.61), telephone and postal clerks (1.74), a miscellaneous group of service jobs (1.68), and receptionists and information clerks (1.47); excesses of lower statistical significance (p less than 0.1) were found in those engaged in plastics and rubber manufacture (2.02) and in child minders (1.84). There were two cases of tracheo-oesophageal fistula--a rare defect--among eight defects (1.32 expected) in agriculture and horticulture. Overall, the distribution of risk ratios in the 60 occupations examined was not significantly heterogeneous. Analysis of chemical exposure profiles for each occupational group showed no evidence of any increased risk, perhaps due to lack of sensitivity and discrimination in this method of exposure estimation. In 152 pregnancies of doctors and nurses who had administered antineoplastic drugs in the first month eight defects, miscellaneous in type, were observed compared with 4.05 expected (p = 0.05). Special study of musculoskeletal defects and work demands showed some evidence of an association with a long working week (greater than or equal to 46 hours) but no other ergonomic factor. With these few exceptions the survey failed to identify appreciable risk of congenital defect related to occupation.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Bone and Bones / abnormalities
  • Chromosome Aberrations / etiology
  • Chromosome Disorders
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Female
  • Hernia / etiology
  • Humans
  • Muscles / abnormalities
  • Occupational Diseases / complications*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Risk Factors
  • Solvents / adverse effects


  • Anesthetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Pesticides
  • Solvents