Hurricanes, Stress and Pregnancy

Stress during pregnancy can lead to health issues at birth

(RxWiki News) When expectant mothers experience stress, it can lead to abnormal conditions at birth – a risk factor for problems in adulthood.

A study led by Princeton researchers found that pregnant women who experienced stress due to nearby hurricanes had children who were at an increased risk of health issues at birth.

"Take steps to manage stress during pregnancy"

Janet Currie, PhD professor at Princeton University, and Maya Rossin-Slater, a PhD candidate from Columbia University gathered information on children born in Texas between 1996 and 2008 whose mothers were in the path of a hurricane during pregnancy.

The study compared the health of these children to the health of their siblings who were not affected by a major storm.

The researchers found that mothers living within 30 km of the hurricane path during their third trimester were 60 percent more likely to have a newborn with abnormal conditions and 30 percent more likely to have complications during labor or delivery.

Elevated risk was also found for those exposed to the stress of a hurricane during the first trimester.

Abnormal conditions for newborns include an event known as meconium aspiration, where the newborn inhales early feces and amniotic fluid during delivery and needing to be on a ventilator for more than 30 minutes after birth. Both abnormal conditions are a clear sign of distress during delivery.

“The most important finding of our study is that it does seem like being subjected to stress in pregnancy has some negative effect on the baby, but that the effect is more subtle than some of the previous studies have suggested," said Dr. Currie.

Previous studies have measured effects through gestation period or birth weight – meconium aspiration and the need for a ventilator are much more subtle signs of distress. This study has developed new ways to measure the outcome of stress during pregnancy, accounting for factors that have not been considered before.

While this study focused on stress caused by a natural disaster – the researchers believe their results can be translated to stress in general. They hope it will open doors for other studies about the impact of stressful situations – like poverty - on newborns.

This study was circulated in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as well as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. No conflicts of interested were stated.

Review Date: 
August 15, 2012