pregnant woman iconMultiple research studies have investigated the impact of short-term, intense stress on pregnancy, but little is known about the effect of prolonged stress like that felt by women affected by the stresses of military or political life. Short-term, intense stress is associated with increased risk of premature birth and miscarriage. Researchers from Tel Aviv University recently published a paper in Psychosomatic Medicine on the effects of long-term, sustained stress on pregnancy. Based on the research, long-term stress is just as detrimental as short-term, intense stress.

Researchers followed pregnant women in Sderot, Israel. The city is constantly under the threat of rocket attacks via Gaza. The control group was comprised of women living just outside Gaza’s rocket range in nearby Kiryat Gaza. Data collection spanned from 2001 to 2008 with about 1,300 women living in Sderot and 2,100 women living in Kiryat Gaza. During the seven-year span when data was collected, there were more than 1,000 alarms warning residents of possible threat. Rocket explosions killed 13 people, left dozens wounded and damaged local property.

Medical records showed a miscarriage rate of about 5% for women living in Kiryat Gaza, outside of the range of rocket attack. Women living in Sderot, however, miscarried in about 7% of pregnancies. The reported results took into account many other risk factors that could increase risk of miscarriage among both sets of participants.

When researchers looked at Sderot more closely, splitting the women into two groups – low attack risk and high attack risk – there was no difference in miscarriage rate. The thought, idea or perception of being attack (stress) was constant among both groups, which researchers believe accounts for the shared miscarriage rate despite differences in physical risk.

Many of the women living in Sderot receive prenatal care from local health clinics. Researchers believe these clinics are in the best position to reduce stress and risk of miscarriage through education and counseling. Reducing stress levels could have a positive impact on pregnancy and reduce the risk of miscarriage among women attending health clinics.

Source: T. Wainstock, L. Lerner-Geva, S. Glasser, I. Shoham-Vardi, E. Y. Anteby. Prenatal Stress and Risk of Spontaneous Abortion. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2013; 75 (3): 228 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e318280f5f3.