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Adverse childhood experiences are associated with spontaneous preterm birth: a case-control study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Inge Christiaens



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Background: More than 1 in 10 infants are born prematurely worldwide, making preterm birth the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity. Chronic maternal stress is increasingly recognized as one of the contributing risk factors for preterm birth, yet its specific role remains largely unknown. Examining the exposure to stressors over a mother's life course might provide more perspective on the role of maternal stress in preterm birth. Our aim was therefore to retrospectively explore the associations between chronic, lifelong stressors and protective factors and spontaneous preterm birth.Methods: This study was part of a large case-control study based in Edmonton, Canada, examining gene-environment interactions and preterm birth. Cases were mothers with a spontaneous singleton preterm birth (<37 weeks) without preterm premature rupture of membranes. Controls were mothers with an uncomplicated singleton term birth without a history of preterm birth. Sociodemographic and medical data were collected. A postpartum telephone questionnaire was administered to assess stressors across the lifespan. Both individual and contextual variables that could influence stress response systems were examined. Overall, 622 women were included, of which 223 subjects - 75 cases and 148 controls - completed the stress questionnaire. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed.Results: Multivariate analysis showed that exposure to two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) was associated with a two-fold risk of preterm birth, regardless of maternal age, smoking status, educational status, and history of miscarriage (adjusted OR, 2.09; 95 % CI, 1.10-3.98; P = 0.024). The adjusted odds ratio for the ACE score was 1.18 (95 % CI, 0.99-1.40), suggesting that for every increase in childhood adverse event endorsed, the risk of preterm birth increased by 18 %. Lifetime physical and emotional abuse was also associated with spontaneous preterm birth in our study population (adjusted OR, 1.30; 95 % CI, 1.02-1.65; P = 0.033).Conclusions: A strong relationship between ACEs and preterm birth was observed. It has been shown that two or more ACEs have a notable two-fold increase in the risk of spontaneous preterm birth. These data demonstrate that stressors throughout life can have a significant effect on pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Christiaens I, Hegadoren K, Olson DM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMC Medicine

Year: 2015

Volume: 13

Online publication date: 24/04/2015

Acceptance date: 11/06/2015

Date deposited: 18/08/2015

ISSN (electronic): 1741-7015

Publisher: BioMed Central Ltd


DOI: 10.1186/s12916-015-0353-0


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