PTSD Linked to Premature Birth

Researchers from the University of Michigan have identified a link between women suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and premature or underweight births. In women, PTSD is most often triggered by war experiences, rape, catastrophe, and significant to this study – occasions of childhood abuse.

The research group examined 839 women from August 2005 to March 2008. Roughly half (41%) of the women studied were of African-American descent. Inclusion of African-American women in the study was essential since an African-American baby born in Michigan is 70% more likely to be born prematurely than babies of other nationalities/races, according to an associate professor of both Gender Studies and Nursing at the University of Michigan.

Besides PTSD and the mother’s race the research team considered history of childhood abuse as a potential risk factor for low birth weight. The women examined in the study were broken into three categories:

  • Women not exposed to trauma
  • Women exposed to trauma who did not suffer from PTSD
  • Women suffering from PTSD

Those groups were further subdivided according to whether they had a history of child abuse.

Research showed that PTSD had a clear effect upon birth weight. Mothers with PTSD gave birth to babies who weighed half a pound less than moms who had undergone trauma but did not suffer from PTSD and mothers who had no experience of trauma. Findings revealed that race was connected to PTSD and thus to premature births or low birth weights. The study showed an inverse relationship between socioeconomic conditions or race and PTSD. Hence, the lower a woman’s economic status, the greater the likelihood of PTSD.

According to the study African-American women are not necessarily at an increased risk for PTSD. However, if they do suffer from the disorder, they are four times more likely to still suffer from the condition during pregnancy. This may be explained by the fact that African-American women often become pregnant at a younger age, meaning that their pregnancies could occur closer to the period when they experienced abuse.

The study revealed that the PTSD group ranked higher in instances of childhood abuse, as well as occasions of substance abuse and recent domestic violence. The association with lower birth weight was strongest for those mothers with a combined condition of PTSD and a history of childhood abuse.

A spokesman for the research team relayed the group’s conclusion that premature births and low birth weights could be connected to PTSD stemming from the mother’s childhood abuse. Since PTSD is a treatable condition and we know that it occurs more often in the African-American population, the researchers recommended screenings be performed in order to provide the proper maternal care that could lead to improved perinatal outcomes.