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Pregnant Women with PTSD Have an Increase risk of Preterm Birth

Update Date: Nov 06, 2014 05:07 PM EST

Pregnant women who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a higher risk of preterm birth, a new study reported. According to the researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, PTSD can increase risk by 35 percent.

"Spontaneous preterm labor has been an intractable problem," said senior author of the study, Ciaran Phibbs, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and a researcher at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University. "Before we can come up with ways to prevent it, we need to have a better understanding of what the causes are. This is one piece of the puzzle."

For this study, Phibbs and colleagues analyzed data 16,344 babies born to veterans. The deliveries were covered under the Veterans Health Administration between 2000 and 2012. 3,049 of the infants were born to women who were diagnosed with PTSD. 1,921 of these births occurred in women whose PTSD was considered to be active at the time, which meant that their mental condition was diagnosed within a year before delivering a baby.

Overall, the researchers found that women with active PTSD had a 35 percent greater risk of spontaneous premature delivery. A spontaneous premature delivery occurs more than three weeks earlier than the delivery date and can lead to health complications for the mother and child.

Factors that contributed to the risk of premature delivery included being older, African-American or having a multiple birth. Factors that did not have a huge effect were maternal health conditions, sources of trauma, other mental health conditions, drug or alcohol misuse, and tobacco dependence.

"This study gives us a convincing epidemiological basis to say that, yes, PTSD is a risk factor for preterm delivery," Phibbs, concluded according to the press release. "This makes us hopeful that if you treat a mom who has active PTSD early in her pregnancy, her stress level could be reduced, and the risk of giving birth prematurely might go down. Mothers with PTSD should be treated as having high-risk pregnancies."

The study was published in the journal, Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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