General health and psychological symptom status in pregnancy and the puerperium: what is normal?

Obstet Gynecol. 1999 Dec;94(6):935-41. doi: 10.1016/s0029-7844(99)00439-1.


Objective: To identify normative changes in psychological and physiologic health status associated with pregnancy and the puerperium.

Methods: Self-administered surveys containing Ware's Short Form-36 and Derogatis's Brief Symptom Inventory were completed by 393 pregnant women during their third trimester. Of those, 253 completed the same survey during the puerperium. Results were compared between periods and with those of samples of women from standardized community samples.

Results: On the Short Form-36, pregnant women in the third trimester had significantly poorer levels of functioning (P<.01) than community controls with regard to bodily pain (51.86 versus 79.61), physical functioning (62.91 versus 89.12), social functioning (74.0 versus 84.06), vitality (47.24 versus 58.04), and functional limitations resulting from physical health problems (45.0 versus 86.73) subscales. Those differences persisted into the puerperium. Compared with pregnancy, scores on social functioning and functional limitations caused by emotional problems decreased during the puerperium. Women reported improved perceptions of their general health in the puerperium compared with community controls (80.22 versus 74.80). On the Brief Symptom Inventory, pregnant women reported significantly higher levels of emotional distress on the three global measures and on the somatization (0.75 versus 0.35), obsessive-compulsive (0.70 versus 0.48), and hostility (0.59 versus 0.36) subscales than controls; those changes normalized in the puerperium.

Conclusion: Pregnancy and the puerperium are associated with significant changes in psychological and physiologic health status. Documentation of those changes is important if the Short Form-36 and Brief Symptom Inventory are to be used in health outcomes research with this population.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Postpartum Period / psychology*
  • Pregnancy / psychology*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third