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Stressful Life Events Increase Risk for Stillbirth

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Stillbirth is the death of a fetus at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. Each year, 1 in 100 to 200 U.S. infants dies from stillbirth. Stillbirths are twice as likely among non-Hispanic blacks as among non-Hispanic whites, although the reason for the disparity is unclear.

Researchers supported through the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch assessed whether stressful life events contributed to the risk of stillbirth, and how this risk affected the disparity in stillbirth rates.

Using a list of significant life events (SLEs)—stressors that, in previous research, were associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, the researchers examined four stress factors: financial, emotional, traumatic, and partner-related events.

The scientists discovered that (PMID: 23531847):

  • As the number of SLEs increased, and as the number of types of SLEs increased, the odds of stillbirth increased for all women in the study.
  • Women who reported all four SLE factors were more than twice as likely to have a stillbirth.
  • Non-Hispanic black women experienced the greatest number of SLEs.
  • The proportion of women with multiple SLEs factors was also higher among non-Hispanic black women.  
  • The association of stressful life events with an increased risk for stillbirth remained after accounting for other factors such as marital status, income, and health insurance type.
Last Reviewed: 06/18/2014
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