More research needed on women’s reproductive health

As the EHRC issues guidance on the menopause at work, there is growing recognition of how understudied women’s reproductive health often is.

Pregnant woman at a desk working at a laptop.

 

There has been quite a bit of news around about the menopause in recent years, although it’s gone a bit quieter recently. Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued guidance on the menopause at work, warning employers that they could face legal action if they discriminate about older women – although menopause and perimenopause may happen at younger ages too. The EHRC said employers could be sued under the Equality Act for disability discrimination.

That prompted a discussion about whether menopause is a disability or a natural process, given it affects every woman as she gets older – more so than childbirth. It’s a valid discussion and there is a campaign for menopause to be recognised as a protected characteristic. Some employers have launched menopause policies or guidance in the last years in response to the raising of awareness about how women at work may be affected. Many are now combining that with more wide-ranging policies on reproductive health.

What is striking is how little is known about women’s reproductive health generally. I was talking to experts in pre-eclampsia recently. They are doing a study of the long-term impact of the condition on heart health among other things. Many women know absolutely nothing about this. The experts mentioned other pregnancy-related conditions that may have longer term effects. I had a placental abruption with my first daughter. I was told drinking or smoking may have caused it. I do neither. Or maybe stress. I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t sound like they had much of a clue what the causes were. Are there also long-term effects that we are not aware of?

There are so many things that happen to women’s bodies as a result of reproduction. Why isn’t more known about them? I interviewed two women who had pre-eclampsia. While they were looked after in terms of being the mother of a newborn, what was striking was how little they felt cared for as humans rather than in terms of their function as mothers. They were just left to get on with it.

One woman spoke of passing out in the shower after her blood pressure dropped when she went home following the birth. She then suffered a panic attack and went to A & E the year after the birth when her blood pressure went up again. I’ve just been reading a book about a woman who was discharged from hospital with a ruptured placenta following childbirth and nearly died as a result. Mothers are not just incubators of babies. Their health matters in both the short and long term and there needs to be much more research done to understand the different ways that reproduction affects them.



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