Pre-pregnancy depressed mood may heighten risk for premature birth

Jun 10, 2009

Researchers trying to uncover why premature birth is a growing problem in the United States and one that disproportionately affects black women have found that pre-pregnancy depressive mood appears to be a risk factor in preterm birth among both blacks and whites.

Black women, however, have nearly two times the odds of having a preterm birth compared to white women, according to Amelia Gavin, a University of Washington assistant professor of social work and lead author of a new study that appears online in the June issue of the Journal of Women's Health.

"Preterm births are one of the most significant health disparities in the United States and the overall number of these births increased from 10.6 percent in 2000 to 12.8 percent in 2005," she said.

While there appears to be some sort of link between giving birth prematurely and depressed mood, the study found no cause and effect, said Gavin, who studies health disparities. She believes the higher preterm birth rate among blacks may be the result of declining health over time among black women.

For this study, premature birth referred to any child born after less than 37 weeks of gestation. Normal gestation ranges from 38 to 42 weeks. Data for the study was drawn from a larger longitudinal investigation looking at the risks for cardiovascular disease among more than 5,000 young adults in four metropolitan areas. The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study also collected information about mental health and pregnancy outcomes. Between 1990 and 1996, 555 women in the larger study gave birth. These women were the subjects in the depression-premature birth study.

"At this point we can't say that pre-pregnancy depressive mood is a cause of preterm birth or how race effects this association," said Gavin. "But it seems to be a risk factor in giving birth prematurely and higher pre-pregnancy depressive mood among black women compared to white women may indirectly contribute to the greater odds of preterm birth found among black women."

In the study 18.1 percent of the black women had a preterm birth compared to 8.5 percent of the white women.

This difference may be the result of what she calls "weathering," or accelerated declines in health due to repeated socioeconomic and political factors.

"What some people experience by being black takes a toll on the physiological system, and over time wear and tear that occurs across neural, neuroendocrine and immune systems as a result of chronic exposure to stressors lead to health disparities for blacks. Some of this may manifest itself in premature birth and low-birth weight," Gavin said.

The study did not look at depressive mood or depression during pregnancy because the larger research project did not collect that data. She hopes to replicate and expand her findings by analyzing data from another study to look at depressive mood prior to pregnancy and childhood poverty to see if those two factors in part explain the black and white difference in preterm delivery. That study also will look at the role antidepressive medication plays in preterm birth.

"My ultimate goal is to incorporate a life course health development framework to examine disparities in birth outcomes," she said. "You have to look at the context of health across the life course of a woman, not just during pregnancy."

The consequences of higher preterm delivery are a growing burden on the health care system and parents. Studies have shown that preterm babies have higher morbidity rates and U.S. rates are creeping up with no good explanation. In the U.S. the population at greatest risk for major depression is women of childbearing age and the onset and course of depression are often intertwined with reproductive events. A recent national study reported that 8.4 percent of pregnant women in the past year experienced major depression and only slightly more than 14 percent of those women sought treatment for any mood disorder.

Source: University of Washington (news : web)

Explore further: New research shows people are thinking about their health early in the week

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Preterm births rise 36 percent since early 1980s

Jan 07, 2009

New government statistics confirm that the decades-long rise in the United States preterm birth rate continues, putting more infants than ever at increased risk of death and disability.

Preterm birth rate drops

Mar 18, 2009

The nation's preterm birth rate declined slightly in 2007 - a finding that the March of Dimes hopes will prove to be the start of a new trend in improved maternal and infant health.

Preterm birth linked to lifelong health issues

Mar 25, 2008

The healthcare implications of being born premature are much broader and reach further into adulthood than previously thought, according to a long-term study of more than a million men and women by Duke University and Norwegian ...

Recommended for you

Autonomy and relationships among 'good life' goals

4 hours ago

Young adults with Down syndrome have a strong desire to be self-sufficient by living independently and having a job, according to a study into the meaning of wellbeing among young people affected by the disorder.

Obama: 8 million signed up for health care (Update)

19 hours ago

President Barack Obama said Thursday 8 million Americans have signed up for health care through new insurance exchanges, besting expectations and offering new hope to Democrats who are defending the law ahead ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

The importance of plumes

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...