Study Links Preterm Births to Mother's Poor Mental Health

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Aug. 15, 2023 – Women with mental health issues are 50% more likely to give birth to a premature baby, according to a new study of 2 million pregnancies in England.

Researchers said about 1 in 10 women who had used mental health services had a preterm birth, while 1 in 15 who did not use mental health services had a preterm birth.

The research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found a connection between the severity of mental health challenges and unwanted outcomes at birth. 

Women who had been in a psychiatric hospital were almost two times as likely to have a premature birth, compared to those who had no contact with mental health services. 

Women with a history of mental health issues were also more likely to give birth to a baby that was small for its gestational age, The Guardian reported – specifically, 75 per 1,000 births, compared with 56 per 1,000 births. 

Researchers said pregnant women should receive mental health assessments as soon as possible. That could reduce the number of maternal deaths, stillbirths, premature births, and underweight babies, Louise Howard, PhD, a professor of women's mental health at King’s College London, told  The Guardian.

“Maternity professionals will be focused on thinking about other modifiable risk factors such as smoking and obesity, but they may not have thought about some of the additional risks that women with mental illness may have,” she said.

“Mental illness itself is likely to be associated with some of these adverse outcomes, because it impacts the stress system and is therefore likely to cause problems,” Howard said. “But it is also associated with other factors. If you’ve got mental illness, you’re more likely to smoke because you’re feeling stressed. Similarly with substance misuse. And there are other stressors such domestic violence, or a history of childhood abuse, or poverty.”