Post-traumatic stress disorder linked to smaller birth weight and gestation

Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are likely to have smaller babies and deliver prematurely, a new University of Michigan (U-M) study suggests.

Published today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the research found that mothers with PTSD who suffered abuse during childhood give birth to babies of lower-average weight and experience shorter gestation.

PTSD is prevalent among women and can occur following traumatic events such as war, disaster, childhood maltreatment, rape and battering. Women with low income and education tend to have higher rates of PTSD in pregnancy, as do African American women.

U-M researchers looked at 839 women, of whom 41 per cent were African American, from August 2005 to March 2008.

Children born to women with PTSD weighed a half pound less than traumatised women who did not develop PTSD, and nearly a half pound less than women who were not exposed to trauma. Among childhood abuse survivors, the association of current PTSD with lower birth weight was stronger.

The research also looked at race as a risk factor for PTSD. African American women are at no greater risk for onset of PTSD, but they are four times more likely to remain affected by the disorder at the time of pregnancy.