Anyone can attest that stress can be a powerful influence on your life. It causes ulcers, hair loss, appetite loss, increased appetite and more. It’s no wonder that it can severely impact your pregnancy as well. A National Institutes of Health network study found that stressful events up to a year before becoming pregnant can make women more likely to have a stillbirth.

The researchers during the study asked more than 2,000 women a series of questions about stressful situations they experienced up to a year prior to becoming pregnant. The questions included whether they had lost a job or had a loved one in the hospital in the year before they gave birth. Most women in the study reported having experienced at least one stressful life event during the year, and the researchers found that 83% of women who had a stillbirth and 75% of women who had a live birth reported a stressful life event. This means that almost 1 in every 5 women with stillbirths and 1 in every 10 women with live births in the study reported recently experiencing 5 or more stressful life events.

The study also recorded that a woman who has experienced five or more stressful events is close to 2.5 times more likely to have a stillbirth than a woman who has experienced no stressful events. Lead author Dr. Carol Hogue, Terry Professor of Maternal and Child Health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health says that "because 1 in 5 pregnant women has three or more stressful events in the year leading up to delivery, the potential public health impact of effective interventions could be substantial and help increase the delivery of healthy babies."

Some stressful events are more strongly associated with stillbirth than others. For example, the risk of stillbirth during the study was highest:

  • For women who had been in a physical fight
  • For women who heard her partner say he didn't want her to be pregnant
  • For women if she or her partner has gone to jail in the year before the delivery

Though at prenatal visits, screening for partner violence and depression is conducted, the questions are not always very thorough. This study was partly conducted to help doctors develop more ways to help depressed and stressed patients during pregnancy to prevent stillbirth whenever possible. If you experienced a lot of stress before getting pregnant or are experiencing increased stress during your pregnancy now, bring it up with your doctor at your next visit to see if there are any solutions for you.  

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