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Trauma link to baby size

Wednesday July 27th, 2011

Women with posttraumatic stress disorder face a risk of giving birth to small babies, researchers warned today.

Dr Julia Seng of the University of Michigan, USA, and her team explain that posttraumatic stress disorder can develop after events including war, disaster, childhood maltreatment, rape and battering.

They looked at figures on 839 women, 41 per cent of whom were African American. This group tends to have higher rates of the condition.

Women affected by posttraumatic stress disorder were more likely to have suffered childhood abuse and recent intimate partner violence, and were more likely to have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

Babies whose mothers had posttraumatic stress disorder were at higher risk of being premature. They also weighed on average half a pound less than women who had been through trauma but had not developed the condition, or women who had not been through trauma.

The link appeared to be strongest after childhood abuse. Possible reasons include having experienced more trauma over their lifetime, having had less treatment for their posttraumatic stress disorder, and tending to become pregnant at a younger age.

Full details are published today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Dr Seng said: "Preterm birth can cause serious health problems for babies. An African American infant in Michigan is 70 per cent more likely to be born prematurely than an infant of any other race.

"Therefore posttraumatic stress disorder, which is treatable and affects African Americans more widely, may be an additional explanation for adverse perinatal outcomes. It is essential that outcomes are improved in this high risk group of women.

"Maternity care needs to take traumatic stress into account with awareness being raised amongst health workers."

Seng, J. et al. Post-traumatic stress disorder, child abuse history, birthweight and gestational age: a prospective cohort study. BJOG July 27, 2011.

Tags: Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Mental Health | North America | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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