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Study Says Stress In Pregnancy Increases Stillbirth Risk

by Alison Wood | April 6, 2013 12:00 AM
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Do women who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy have a greater risk of delivering a stillborn baby? New research says they do.

A stillbirth is defined as the death of a baby at 20 weeks or more during pregnancy. Researchers conducted a National Institutes of Health network study of more than 2,000 women. They probed these women with a series of questions that included personal, emotional and financial stress during the course of their pregnancies.

Upon careful mathematical configurations, researchers found that 83 percent of women who had a stillbirth and 73 percent of women who had a live birth disclosed that they had dealt with a stressful life event during pregnancy. Approximately about one in five women with stillbirths and one in 10 women with live births said they had recently experienced five or more significant, stressful situations in the duration of their pregnancy.

In 2006 alone, the National Center for Health Statistics reported one stillbirth for every 167 births. Even though we live in such modern times, stillbirths still happen. The researchers in this study analyzed that two or more stressful events during a pregnancy significantly increased the chances of stillbirth -- as much as 40 percent. A pregnant woman dealing with five or more stressful events was almost 2.5 times more likely to experience a stillbirth than a woman who had a relatively low-stress pregnancy.

Marian Willinger, Ph.D is the acting chief of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is one of the two NIH groups that funded the above research. Upon co-authoring this study she expressed her thoughts about monitoring prenatal stress. "We documented how significant stressors are highly prevalent in pregnant women's lives. This reinforces the need for health care providers to ask expectant mothers about what is going on in their lives, monitor stressful life events and to offer support as part of prenatal care."

The lead author of this recent research was Dr. Carol Hogue, Terry Professor of Maternal and Child Health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta. She stated, "Because 1 in 5 pregnant women has three or more stressful events in the year leading up to delivery, the potential public health impact of effective interventions could be substantial and help increase the delivery of healthy babies".

To provide the most well-rounded study, Dr. Willinger discussed all findings with colleagues at the NICHD and Emory University, Drexel University School of Medicine, Philadelphia; University of Texas Medical Branch of Galveston; Children's Health Science Center at San Antonio and others.

Thorough research was conducted by the NICHD-funded Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network. All women who had delivered a stillborn baby and a small portion of women who delivered a live birth were enrolled in this study between 2006 and 2008.

Shortly after a stillbirth or live birth delivery, the women in the study were questioned about emotional, partner-related, financial and traumatic events during their pregnancy. They had to answer the following questions about their situations during their nine months of pregnancy.

Some stressful events during pregnancy were more likely to cause a stillbirth than others. The top three were experiencing a physical fight, hearing their partner's negative views of the pregnancy and having a partner or husband go to jail during the pregnancy.

Upon discovering the truth about stress during pregnancy, women need to take greater steps to ensure a more peaceful nine months of baby-developing days. How can a woman effectively deal with outside stress that could cause complications during pregnancy?

Avoid the stressors
If planning a big move during pregnancy exhausts and stresses you out, see if there are other options available. Is it possible to wait out the big move until your bambino has arrived and adjusted to this new world? If you absolutely have to move during pregnancy, take it slow and recruit some help.

Take five.
Taking small, frequent breaks during the day can aid you in calmly thinking through your difficulties. Pick a quiet, comfortable and serene spot and relax. After a few moments of relaxing, think of the best way to deal or not deal with the problems at hand.

Find joy.
If others around you do not express happiness about your upcoming little one, try not to muse on this. For a myriad of reasons, some family members or friends are not thrilled with a new pregnancy or new bundle of joy. However, many hearts and minds change after the little one makes his first debut.

Get help.
If you ever feel like you are in any physical danger, do not hesitate to seek help immediately. It's not only your life in danger, but also your little one. Any physical abuse from a partner, spouse or relative should be reported right away.

Alison Wood is a stay-at-home mom of six and freelance writer and blogger. She enjoys raising her six children and desires to share her experiences to help other mothers.

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