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Pregnant Women Under Stress May Be at Higher Risk for Stillbirth

FRIDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) -- Stressful life events increase women's risk of stillbirth, a new study finds.

Stillbirth is the death of the fetus at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. There was one stillbirth for every 167 live births in the United States in 2006, according to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.

The study included more than 2,000 women who were asked if they experienced an emotional, financial or other type of stressful life event in the year before they gave birth. Examples of such events included losing a job or having a loved one in the hospital.

At least one stressful life event was reported by 83 percent of women who had a stillbirth and 75 percent of those who had a live birth. Nearly one in five women with stillbirths and one in 10 women with live births said they had five or more stressful life events in the previous year.

The researchers calculated that two stressful events increased the risk of stillbirth by about 40 percent. Women who had five or more stressful events were nearly 2.5 times more likely to have a stillbirth than women who experienced no stressful events.

After accounting for other stillbirth risk factors, such as previous pregnancy history, the researchers determined that women who experienced three or four stressful events still had an increased risk of stillbirth.

Black women were more likely to report stressful events than white or Hispanic women. This may partly explain why black women have higher rates of stillbirth than white or Hispanic women, the researchers said.

The study, published online March 26 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"Because one in five 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," lead author Dr. Carol Hogue, a professor of maternal and child health at Emory University, said in a National Institutes of Health news release.

Study co-author Marian Willinger, acting chief of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said the findings reinforce "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."

Although the study found a link between stressful events during pregnancy and stillbirth, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about stillbirth.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, March 27, 2013

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