Results show that women reporting high levels of stress — as measured on a scale of depression and anxiety symptoms — were more likely than other pregnant women to deliver low-birth-weight babies.
Additionally, about 7 percent to 8 percent of the depressed or anxious women had babies who were born pre-term, compared with 5 percent to 6 percent of women without these symptoms, the study showed. While the difference may seem small, the difference is clinically relevant given the life-long effects that pre-term birth can bring, the researchers said.
“Babies from pregnant women reporting both high levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms are at highest risk,” said study researcher Eva Loomans, a psychologist at Tilburg University.
Support for these women could help prevent long-term health consequences for their children, Loomans said.
It is normal to experience some form of stress during pregnancy, Loomans said, but studies show that about 25 percent of women experience “psychosocial” stress, which interferes with their daily life and functioning. It is this type of stress that contributes to worse outcomes for infants, she said.
In the study, Loomans and her colleagues looked at data gathered from 7,700 women who had taken part in the Amsterdam Born Children and Their Development study. When they were about 16 weeks pregnant, the women filled out a questionnaire about their mental health, and the researchers later followed up with questions about their babies.