Pre-pregnancy stress reactivity and pregnancy outcome

Emily W. Harville, Erica P. Gunderson, Karen A. Matthews, Cora E. Lewis, Mercedes Carnethon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Stress has been proposed as a cause of preterm birth (PTB) and small-for-gestational age (SGA), but stress does not have the same effects on all women. It may be that a woman's reaction to stress relates to her pregnancy health, and previous studies indicate that higher reactivity is associated with reduced birthweight and gestational age. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between pre-pregnancy cardiovascular reactivity to stress and pregnancy outcome. The sample included 917 women in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study who had cardiovascular reactivity measured in 1987-88 and at least one subsequent singleton livebirth within an 18-year period. Cardiovascular reactivity was measured using a video game, star tracing and cold pressor test. Gestational age and birthweight were based on the women's self-report, with PTB defined as birth <37 weeks' gestation and SGA as weight <10th percentile for gestational age. Linear and Poisson regression and generalised estimating equations were used to model the relationship between reactivity to stress and birth outcomes with control for confounders. Few associations were seen between reactivity and pregnancy outcomes. Higher pre-pregnancy diastolic blood pressure (adjusted relative risk 1.14; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.98, 1.34) and mean arterial pressure reactivity (1.15; 0.98, 1.36) were associated with risk of PTB at first pregnancy, while SGA was associated with lower systolic blood pressure reactivity (0.76; 0.60, 0.95). No associations were seen with other measures of reactivity. Contrary to hypothesis, the association between heart rate reactivity and PTB in first pregnancy was stronger in whites (adjusted relative risk 1.39; 1.03, 1.88) than in blacks (1.00; 0.83, 1.20; P for interaction=0.08). Similar results were found for mean arterial pressure. No strong associations were found between higher pre-pregnancy stress reactivity and SGA or PTB, and stress reactivity did not have a stronger association with birth outcomes in blacks than whites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-571
Number of pages8
JournalPaediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • ethnicity
  • heart rate reactivity
  • maternal blood pressure
  • mean arterial pressure
  • preterm
  • small-for-gestational age
  • stress reactivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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