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Mental Health

Poor Maternal Mental Health Linked to Preterm Births

— September 11, 2023

Mothers with mental health disorders are more likely to deliver early, studies show.

For pregnant women, one of the most important goals of the pregnancy is to make it to full term before the child is born. When the baby is carried to full term before birth, complications and other negative outcomes are significantly less likely to occur. Unfortunately, there seems to be a strong link between mental health issues and preterm birth, however, meaning women who are struggling with mental health challenges are at risk of having their babies before they reach full term.  A large study was completed in England to arrive at this conclusion, and the research could help inform how women are treated during pregnancy when known mental health issues are present or in the past.

This study tapped into the history of more than two million pregnancies that had been tracked in England. The goal was to make a potential connection between women who had sought out mental health services and women who delivered prematurely. So, data points were collected on those two sides, and connections were quickly drawn.

Overall, it was found that 1 in 10 women who had used mental health services went on to deliver their baby prematurely. In the group of women who did not access mental health services, that number was 1 in 15. So, there was a statistically significant difference in those two groups, potentially pointing to a meaningful connection.

Poor Maternal Mental Health Linked to Preterm Births
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Perhaps the more interesting discovery in this study was that the severity of the mental health issues faced by the women seemed to have a powerful impact on their likelihood of delivering prematurely. If a woman had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital as a result of her mental health struggles, she was nearly twice as likely to give birth before reaching full term. This further strengthens the connection between these two data points and speaks to the likelihood that there is an underlying reason for them to be tied together.

Plenty of other adverse pregnancy outcomes were tied to mental health struggles other than preterm birth, as well. Even the likelihood of a stillbirth, which is rather rare regardless of the mother in question, went up when looking at a mother who had been in a psychiatric hospital compared to one who had not. It’s likely that there are some correlating factors to be weighed into these statistics, such as the increased likelihood that the mother dealing with mental health issues is also facing challenges with things like substance abuse that will make premature birth more likely.

The study is just another reason for the present focus on mental health issues to be intensified with even more resources and strategies brought to the battle against things like depression and anxiety. Not only do mental health challenges harm the individual affected, but also their unborn children and others around them. As a society, the more emphasis and effort that can be placed on improving our overall mental health, the better off everyone will be.


Women with poor mental health ‘have 50% higher risk of preterm birth’

Mayo Clinic: Premature Birth

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