Chronic stress doubles risk of preterm birth
One in every nine babies in the U.S. is born preterm, or before a woman has reached her 37th week of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, new research suggests chronic stress stemming from early childhood experiences may play a role in increasing a woman’s risk for preterm birth.
Women who had at least two adverse childhood experiences had twice the risk for preterm birth compared to other women, according to researchers from the University of Alberta who asked 200 women who had recently given birth to complete a survey that included questions about their early life experiences and resulting stress.
“Although not inevitable, childhood adversity can result in long-term impacts on health across the lifespan, including pregnancy outcomes,” said Kathleen Hegadoren, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Nursing and an author of the study, in a news release. “Prenatal care providers need to ask pregnant women about past and current experiences that may have affected their health. In doing that, they can help women understand a potential link between life experiences and preterm birth risk.”
Although many preterm babies survive and thrive, being born early can increase a baby’s risk for serious health problems, says Dr. Melissa Dennis, an obstetrician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
- Vision and hearing difficulties
- Breathing problems
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
Preterm birth is also the leading cause of infant death, according to the CDC.
“While any new study needs to be validated, this research emphasizes the importance of a woman’s overall health, as it may significantly impact her pregnancy,” Dr. Dennis says.
While childhood stress is not preventable, there are things women can do to decrease their risk of delivering her baby early.
Dr. Dennis suggests the following steps:
- Begin receiving prenatal care as soon as you find out you are pregnant and continue to see your prenatal care provider throughout your pregnancy.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Avoid alcohol during pregnancy.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Understand the warning signs of preterm labor and seek medical attention right away if you experience symptoms.
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