Research links PTSD to an increased risk of preterm labor
By Brandon Lilly
According to a study conducted by doctors at Stanford University, female veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are significantly more likely to give birth prematurely.
The study examined the outcomes of more than 16,000 births by female veterans and recommended treating all PTSD sufferers’ pregnancies as high risk. The study analyzed all deliveries covered by the Veterans Administration from 2000 to 2012. Having active PTSD—described as having suffered symptoms in the year before delivery—increased the likelihood of preterm labor by 35 percent, according to researchers. That is pretty significant when you consider one of every nine infants born in the U.S. in 2012 were preterm, and preterm-related causes of death accounted for 35 percent of all infant deaths in 2010, more than any other single reason. “This study gives us a convincing epidemiological basis to say PTSD is a risk factor for preterm delivery,” Dr. Ciaran Phibbs, an associate professor of Pediatrics at Stanford and the senior author of the report, said in a statement. “Mothers with PTSD should be treated as high-risk pregnancies.”
A pregnancy diagnosed as high risk receives increased fetal monitoring during the first and second trimesters—which can be critical to detecting potential problems. Preterm labor has been a consistent and perplexing issue for physicians. The impact of war on a pregnant soldier adds complications. “Spontaneous preterm labor has been an intractable problem,” said Phibbs. “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.”
Although researchers looked at several contributing factors, such as maternal health issues and possible mental health problems, it became apparent that PTSD was the trigger for premature birth. “The mechanism is biologic,” Phibbs said. “Stress is setting off biologic pathways that are inducing preterm labor. It’s not the other psychiatric conditions or risky behaviors that are driving it.”
The excellent news is pregnant soldiers have a resource for support. The study also showed women previously diagnosed with PTSD, who had no symptoms over the year before giving birth, were found to be at no higher risk of preterm labor than the general population.