Shift Work May Hamper Conception

Harvard study suggests that women who work late shifts may have problems conceiving a baby

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

OB-GYN Justicia-Linde
OB-GYN Justicia-Linde

A study recently released by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston states that women who work second or third shift may experience a reduced ability to conceive.

The disrupted sleep schedule — resting while others are awake and working when most are asleep — may be partly to blame.
Faye Justicia-Linde, an OB-GYN at University at Buffalo, said that shift work “has a propensity of increasing high cholesterol, blood pressure and hypertension.”

She said these conditions can affect ovular function and decrease the chances of pregnancy by disrupting the woman’s hormonal level and the regulation of the menstrual cycle.

The couple’s work schedule may also negatively affect their chances of conception. If they seldom have intercourse because he works first shift and she works third, they may miss her most fertile time of the month.

“That’s not going to work out well,” Justicia-Linde said. “There are logistics involved that may not be as obvious until you start probing.”

But if they’re having intercourse frequently and pregnancy remains elusive, working nights could influence the problem.

“Anything that disrupts the circadian rhythm throws off our hormonal and endocrine and even our immune system,” said physician Rob Kiltz, founder and director of CNY Fertility in Buffalo. “The stress factors that go along with that and the fact that we may not be in synch with the partner, that probably doesn’t help.”

Kiltz is a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and board-certified in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

He said that circadian rhythm affects ovulation dysfunction, “likely affecting the hormonal environment that supports the early embryonic environment. It could throw off the hormones that support early pregnancy.”

Other work factors can reduce the woman’s ability to conceive, such as performing heavy physical labor. The study indicated that wemon working physically intense employment had fewer eggs than women working sedentary jobs.

Kiltz said that these somewhat androgenic activities release cortisol, the stress hormone. That promotes inflammatory conditions that can negatively affect how egg and sperm interact, ovulation and implantation of a fertilized egg.

While exercise is healthful, strenuous, heavy activity may make having a baby tougher. In addition to physical stress, emotional stress can also inhibit conception.

“This is why we recommend yoga, exercise, acupuncture, going for a walk, listening to nature and soothing music and reading a good book,” Kiltz said. “Turn off the TV news. If you do have shift work, imagine you’re able to come home, reduce the light, and change that circadian rhythm a bit to get a quiet time of rest and relaxation.”

He also recommends limiting carbohydrates in the diet.

Working with an OB-GYN and fertility expert can help women struggling to conceive to eliminate factors that decrease their likelihood of pregnancy.