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Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1984 April 21; 288(6425): 1191–1194.
PMCID: PMC1441330

Psychosocial stress in pregnancy and its relation to low birth weight.


The relation of low birth weight to psychosocial stress in pregnancy was examined using a life events inventory and a state anxiety index. Two hundred and fifty women were randomly selected and interviewed three times during pregnancy and shortly after delivery. Twenty six were excluded. Of the remaining 224 women, nine miscarried, 195 had healthy term babies, and 20 gave birth to babies that were either premature or of low birth weight at term. Low birth weight and prematurity were significantly associated with objective major life events but not state anxiety. The occurrence of objective major life events in the third trimester may be important in precipitating preterm labour. Cigarette smoking was the best predictor and objective major life events the second best predictor of low birth weight. The result was not dependent on social class. These findings suggest that cigarette smoking may be an important mediator of stress on the fetus. Antenatal care should take greater account of stress in pregnancy, and social support systems should be evaluated.

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