Anxiety during pregnancy associated with earlier births, study shows

Ivan Samkov/Pexels

According to a recent study, compared to those who don’t experience anxiety, on average, women with anxiety during their pregnancies give birth earlier.

The study, published in the journal, Health Psychology, was led by Christine Dunkel Schetter, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles. Schetter and her team of researchers set out to better understand the relationship between different forms of anxiety and pregnancy length, to help develop the most effective strategies for anxiety screenings among pregnant women.

“Anxiety about a current pregnancy is a potent psychosocial state that may affect birth outcomes,” said Dunkel Schetter. “These days, depressive symptoms are assessed in many clinic settings around the world to prevent complications of postpartum depression for mothers and children. This and other studies suggest that we should also be assessing anxiety in pregnant women.”

Researchers analyzed data from a sample of 196 pregnant women from Denver, Colorado who were involved in the Health Babies Before Birth study. Researchers asked the participants to complete four different anxiety screenings during their first and third trimesters of pregnancy. One test screened for general anxiety. The other three surveys were more specific including two scales of anxiety during pregnancy and an assessment of a broader range of pregnancy stressors like medical care and childcare.

Researchers found scores from all four scales to be interrelated, indicating that there were common factors between the different forms of anxiety. The study’s results showed that anxiety during the third trimester was most related to earlier births, although anxiety during the first trimester also seemed to be a contributor. When results were adjusted for medical risks, the findings still held.

“Although not all women who begin pregnancy with general anxiety symptoms will later experience pregnancy-specific anxiety, our results suggest that women who do follow this progression are likely to be especially at risk for earlier delivery,” Dunkel Schetter said.

According to researchers, these findings highlight the importance of anxiety screenings during pregnancy. More research to determine why anxiety and birth timing are linked.

“Increasing precision in our understanding of both the risks and mechanisms of the effects of pregnancy anxiety on gestational length can improve our ability to develop, test and implement interventions to address the pressing public health issue of preterm birth,” Dunkel Schetter said.