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Mental Health

Anxiety during pregnancy can lead to premature births

The UCLA researchers examined data from 196 women in Denver and Los Angeles.

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By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Anxiety during pregnancy can lead to premature births, warns a new study.

The research could help doctors understand when and how best to screen for anxiety during pregnancy to help prevent early births.

Previous research revealed that one in four pregnant women have higher anxiety than non-pregnant women.

These stresses can be pregnancy-specific, such as childbirth, parenting and the baby's health, or they can be more general.

Dr. Christine Dunkel Schetter, a professor of health psychology at the University of California, and lead author of the study said: “Anxiety about a current pregnancy is a potent psychosocial state that may affect birth outcomes.

"These days, depressive symptoms are assessed in many clinical settings around the world to prevent complications of postpartum depression for mothers and children.

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"This and other studies suggest that we should also be assessing anxiety in pregnant women.”

The researchers examined data from 196 women in Denver and Los Angeles.

Of all the women, 45 percent were non-Hispanic white, 36 percent were 36 percent Hispanic white, ten percent were Asian and nine percent were black.

The women's anxiety was measured at different points during their pregnancy.

The researchers found that those having pregnancy-related anxieties in their third trimester were more likely to have earlier births.

Additionally, those who were generally anxious in the first trimester were at risk of premature birth, as they were less likely to cope well with the worries of pregnancy.

Dr. Dunkel Schetter said: “Although not all women who begin pregnancy with general anxiety symptoms will later experience pregnancy-specific anxiety, our results suggest that women who do follow this progression are likely to be especially at risk for earlier delivery.”

These findings, published by Health Psychology, show that doctors should screen women for general stress during early pregnancy, so the women who score highly for stress can be monitored as the pregnancy goes on.

Through this process, medical professionals will have the opportunity to offer extra help and prevent premature births.

According to Dr. Dunkel Schetter, further research is needed to explore why pregnancy anxiety is linked to early births.

Dr. Dunkel Schetter added: “Increasing precision in our understanding of both the risks and mechanisms of the effects of pregnancy anxiety on gestational length can improve our ability to develop, test, and implement interventions to address the pressing public health issue of preterm birth.”

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