New research out of UCLA suggests that pregnant women suffering from daily anxiety are at a heightened risk of premature delivery.
“Anxiety about a current pregnancy is a potent psychosocial state that may affect birth outcomes,” said lead study author Dr. Christine Dunkel Schetter, of the University of California, Los Angeles. “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 believe that at least one in four pregnant women currently suffer from high anxiety symptoms. They also note that the second trimester is when anxiety seems to spike, mostly due to fears around medical risks, the baby’s health, labor pain, delivery complications, and parenting. By the third trimester, the anxiety either waned or caused complications, including premature birth.
“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 in a news release from the American Psychological Association.
Researchers are now encouraging OB/GYNs and GP doctors to screen for anxiety as part of routine maintenance during pregnancy. They say that women who score high on anxiety scales should be watched for an increase in anxiety and possibly need to be monitored later in pregnancy.
“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,” Schetter said.
Interestingly, the study also points out that women often deal with their anxiety by avoiding the subject. Between unhealthy coping strategies and flat-out misunderstanding the risks of their anxiety, many women unknowingly put themselves in precarious positions during pregnancy. Premature births then often ensue, and the effects of premature birth can negatively impact the lives of the children for years to come.