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Pregnant and undocumented: taking work into account as a social determinant of health

Jill Hanley (Department of Social Work, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)
Lindsay Larios (Department of Political Science, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
Alexandra Ricard-Guay (European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy)
Francesca Meloni (Department of Childhood and Youth Studies, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)
Cécile Rousseau (Department of Social and Cultural Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 8 April 2020

Issue publication date: 8 June 2020




It is well understood that women’s work situations are critical to their well-being during pregnancy and in terms of potential risks to the fetus. It has also long been known that undocumented women workers face particularly difficult work conditions and being undocumented precludes access to key social benefits (i.e. public health insurance, paid maternity leave, child benefits and subsidized daycare) that support pregnant women and new mothers. Yet, this paper aims to write about the intersection of undocumented women’s pregnancy with work experiences.


Drawing on the results of a broader qualitative study that was focussed on access to healthcare for undocumented (and therefore, uninsured) women who were pregnant and gave birth in Montreal, Canada, the authors begin this paper with a review of the relevant literature for this topic related to the work conditions of undocumented women, how work exacerbates barriers to accessing healthcare and the resulting health outcomes, particularly in relation to pregnancy. The authors highlight the social determinants of health human rights framework (Solar and Irwin, 2010), before presenting methodology. In conclusion, the authors discuss how an understanding of undocumented women’s work situations sheds light on their pregnancy experiences.


The authors then present participants’ work conditions before becoming pregnant, working conditions while pregnant and employment options and pressures after giving birth.


The authors emphasize that attention to undocumented pregnant women’s work situations might help health and social service practitioners to better serve their needs at this critical point in a woman’s life and at the beginning of the life of their children, born as full citizens.



Hanley, J., Larios, L., Ricard-Guay, A., Meloni, F. and Rousseau, C. (2020), "Pregnant and undocumented: taking work into account as a social determinant of health", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 189-199.



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