PTSD Increases Risk of Preterm Birth

November 12, 2014

PTSD and preterm birth are associated, so knowing your patients' mental health history, particularly when symptoms were last present, is important.

Pregnant women with PTSD are significantly more likely to give birth prematurely, a new study published online in Obstetrics & Gynecology found.

The study, which examined more than 16,000 births of veterans, found that if the woman had PTSD in the year prior to delivery her risk of spontaneous premature delivery increased by 35%.

Key Points:

- Pregnant women with PTSD symptoms within the year prior to delivery are 35% more likely to give birth prematurely.

- Research is needed to determine whether treatment of PTSD symptoms early in the pregnancy can reduce the risk of preterm birth.

"This study gives us a convincing epidemiological basis to say that, yes, PTSD is a risk factor for preterm delivery," said the study's senior author, Ciaran Phibbs, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and an investigator at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, in a news release. "Mothers with PTSD should be treated as having high-risk pregnancies."

The analysis included all deliveries covered by the Veterans Health Administration from 2000 to 2012. Of the 16,344 births included, 3,049 involved mothers who had a PTSD diagnosis. Of those with PTSD, 1,921 were for women who were diagnosed in the year prior to giving birth.

The distinction of when the diagnosis occurred was important because the risk of premature delivery did not affect those women who had a PTSD diagnosis but had not experienced symptoms in the year before giving birth. For those women, the risk of early delivery was no higher than women without PTSD, the researchers reported.

"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," said Phibbs, noting that research would have to confirm the ability to reduce the risk.

While PTSD is commonly associated with military veterans, the researchers noted that the findings are applicable to the general population. The study also included women veterans who had PTSD but had not deployed to a combat zone.