Maternal stress and obstetric and infant outcomes: epidemiological findings and neuroendocrine mechanisms

Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2000 Aug;40(3):331-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828x.2000.tb03344.x.


This review examines the associations between antenatal maternal stress and obstetric and infant outcomes using preterm delivery as the key outcome indicator. This was done by means of a Medline search focusing predominantly on prospective, controlled studies which investigated both the associated epidemiological factors and putative neuroendocrine mechanisms. There is evidence from a number of United States studies in economically deprived African American women for an association between perceived maternal life event (LE) stress and preterm delivery. The findings from the European studies are conflicting, partly because they combine outcome measures ie. preterm delivery and low birth weight. However the three largest Scandinavian epidemiological studies examining preterm delivery and controlling for confounders such as smoking, age and obstetric history, have confirmed this association. These studies taken together suggest that this may be a robust finding not limited to socioeconomically deprived African American samples and independent of other significant risk factors. Two small prospective studies examining the relationship between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, psychosocial status and premature delivery have reported a significant association between a set of adverse psychosocial factors on the one hand, and levels of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol levels, and on the other hand, a significant correlation between CRH levels and premature delivery. Clearly, these findings remain preliminary and indicate a complex relationship between perceived stress in pregnancy, the HPA axis and premature delivery. The impact of antenatal maternal stress on infant temperament and psychopathology remains to be examined more fully in prospective controlled trials.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / epidemiology*
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / etiology
  • Obstetrics / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology