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Premature Births linked to Depressed/Anxious Mothers

We’ve been hearing a lot in the news lately about the links between prematurity and infant death rates. Yesterday CNN ran a story with claims that 30% of infant deaths are attributed to pre-term births. According the article, titled; “Prematurity causes 30 percent of infant deaths”, preterm births (those births occurring before 37 weeks gestation) amounted to less then 20% of infant deaths in the past. The article was vague about exactly why preterm babies are at risk citing only specifically one problem occurring commonly in premature infants; respiratory distress syndrome, an issue which is due to the underdeveloped lungs of premature babies.

If you are anything like me, right now your wondering what would cause a premature birth. Don’t worry, I did some preliminary research for you;

According to Wikipedia, there are a wide variety of factors which have been linked to preterm births including;

• The mother’s previous history of preterm birth or pregnancies which ended in miscarriages,
• Multiple pregnancies
• Uterine or cervical abnormalities
• High blood pressure, kidney disease and diabetes
• Women with a history of substance abuse (tobacco, alcohol and other drugs)
• Women who under 18 or over 35
• Women receiving inadequate nutrition during pregnancy,
• Pre-eclampsia
• Stress

A lot of these factors may seem pretty cut and dry. However, did you know stress and mood disorders such as depression could contribute to an increased risk of low weight babies and preterm births?

In an article titled “Lower Fetal Weight Linked to High Distress in Mothers” posted on October 2, 2006 on Medical News Today, the author discusses the findings of a research study by Psychobiologists from University of Miami School of Medicine, which examined the relationship between mothers with a high rate of depression and anxiety and their fetus’s weight. The study found that fetuses of mothers afflicted with severe depression and anxiety weighed less at midterm then fetuses of mothers who were less depressed and/or anxious.

The researchers hypothesize that the underweight fetuses are exposed to cortisol at increased levels, which could account for them weighing less then other fetuses. Psychobiologist Miguel A. Diego had this to say about the cortisol/birth weight interaction:

“Maternal distress is accompanied by biochemical changes, such as increased cortisol, that can both directly and indirectly affect the fetus,” Diego said. “Cortisol can directly cross through the placenta into the fetus, which could affect fetal development.”

Diego also went on to say that increased cortisol production could affect the mother’s vascular functioning, which could reduce blood flow to the fetus and thereby cause a depletion of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. This restriction of oxygen and nutrients could cause a significant negative impact on the fetus, leading to low birth weight and premature births.

Now that you know depression and anxiety could cause a negative impact on your baby, what can you do about it?

While I found several articles relating to drug therapy for decreasing your risk of giving birth preterm, at this point all of the drug studies are still in the preliminary stages and the best advice seems to be to continuing your regular regiment of stress reduction. Be it formal therapy for issues such as depression/anxiety or stress relief through doing relaxing things you enjoy such as yoga or gardening. Of course you should always consult your doctor on what he/she suggests and ask them specifically if it is safe for your baby if you continue your current antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication, should you be taking these or any other types of medications.

Finally, need more advice? The internet is a good place to start. Check out these links I found for tips to reduce stress during pregnancy; 12 Tips for Coping with Stress during Pregnancy, Stress Relief during Pregnancy, Less Stress for Healthier Mom, Baby.

Premature Births linked to Depressed/Anxious Mothers

Jennifer Bechdel

Jennifer Bechdel, MBA is a freelance and technical writer, as well as a marketing consultant. She focuses on workplace issues, stress, and unemployment topics.

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APA Reference
Bechdel, J. (2018). Premature Births linked to Depressed/Anxious Mothers. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.