Depression: A Risk Factor for Preterm Birth

by Ann Douglas

30-week preemieGiving birth to a premature baby can be a shocking experience for many parents. Weeks before they had even imagined they'd be parents, the shell-shocked parents may find themselves struggling to make sense of complex medical procedures and the 24-hour cycle of the neonatal intensive care unit: their babys first home.

Despite significant advances in prenatal and obstetrical care, the preterm birth rate to rise. One reason? Assisted reproductive technologies, which remain popular, are more likely to result in a multiple pregnancy; and a multiple pregnancy is more likely to result in a preterm birth.

Multiple birth isn't the only risk factor for preterm birth, of course. Others include polyhydramnios (having an excess of amniotic fluid), vaginal bleeding, uterine anomalies that make it difficult for a pregnancy to continue beyond a certain point, and excessive uterine contractions.

Prenatal depression may also be a significant -- and previously overlooked -- risk factor for a preterm birth. A recent study published in the medical journal Human Reproduction found that depressed pregnant women are twice as likely to give birth prematurely as pregnant women without any symptoms of depression. The researchers, who interviewed approximately 800 San Francisco-area pregnant women over a two year period, found that the risk of preterm delivery increases along with the severity of depressive symptoms. Forty-one percent of the women in the study reported significant to severe depressive symptoms.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.