Let it Flow #2 by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis. Photographer: Rob Lewis

Let it Flow #2 by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis. Photographer: Rob Lewis

Menstrual leave is a trending topic in recent news stories. Zambia now offers leave to women suffering from serious menstrual cramps, whereas most countries in the West offer little, if any, paid sick time, let alone time off for menstrual-related pain. On Feb. 4, 2017, Quartz Media reports in a story headlined Women in Zambia are getting an extra day off per month for period pain, that this new provision will be in effect for one year. Women can take off one day a month without explanation and without it counting as vacation time. “Mother’s Day” is intended to make the workplace friendlier to women. As debate springs up over whether or not employees should be able to take menstrual leave, other factors concerning reproduction in the workplace are coming to light.

Does shift work impact fertility?

Do certain types of work have an effect on women’s reproductive health? For example, could shift work cause some women to experience fertility problems? A Harvard University study recently published in BMJ Journals, says, yes, quite possibly. The study found a correlation between infertility among women who work shift work and/or those who do heavy lifting on the job. Researchers looked at the working conditions of close to 500 women at a Massachusetts fertility clinic, along with the women’s biomarkers including egg reserve, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels, weight, and age. On Feb.8, 2017, a CNN story about the Harvard study noted that, while not definitive, a similar conclusion was drawn from a 2015 study in Occupational & Environmental Medicine. This study looked at fecundity in nurses who worked shift work. The study found that heavy lifting and working more than 40 hours a week correlated with poor fertility. While only a correlation was made, the findings suggest the need for further investigation into how occupational variables may influence reproductive health.

Benefit coverage for fertility services

In a Feb. 10, 2017, article called Why companies are paying for IVF for their workers but don’t want to talk about itMarketWatch reported that 26 percent of employers in the United States offer their employees monetary assistance for IVF treatment. Only 15 states require that employee benefit programs include some sort of fertility support, but employers are stepping up to attract and retain employees.

Companies are increasingly filling the void because the U.S. health care system doesn’t deem treating infertility — a condition affecting 1 in 8 U.S. couples — a medical necessity. 

While many companies do not openly share this information with the public, or during job interviews, the trend is increasing as more couples delay pregnancy to first establish careers. MarketWatch notes that some employers require an infertility diagnosis based on how long a woman has been trying to conceive before approving funding. Such criteria could exclude same sex couples or single women, and be seen as discriminatory, which may be why companies do not outwardly advertise their benefit packages.

Companies such as American Airlines are not only offering support for IVF, but also additional weeks of paid maternity leave and pregnancy-related services, such as lactation support, in an effort to retain female employees. If career and family are important milestones in your future, check out FertilityIQ for the 2016-2017 rankings and employer benefit reviews.

Free bleeding goes public

Is free bleeding while working the next menstrual advocacy trend? On Feb. 14, 2017, People featured yoga instructor Steph Gongora in a story called: Yoga Instructor Practices in White Pants While Free-Bleeding to Make a Point About Period Shame. She literally bled on the job to show that menstruation is not embarrassing. Gongora explains why she chose to free bleed in an Instagram post earlier this month urging followers to:

STOP PRETENDING. Stop using silly pet names like Aunt Flo because you’re too afraid to say “I’m bleeding” or “vagina.” Stop wasting so much effort hiding the very thing that gives this species continuity.

While the practice of free bleeding may not be for everyone, these examples of how women’s reproductive lives are impacting the workplace vividly show that just because a menstrual cup, tampon, or pad is concealing menstrual flow, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

When she is not writing and researching about the menstrual cycle and woman’s health for Diva International Inc., or blogging for Menstruation Matters, you will find Sophie Zivku trying out new recipes, reading, attempting to knit and spending time with her ever-growing family in Ontario, Canada.

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