Stress and preterm birth: neuroendocrine, immune/inflammatory, and vascular mechanisms

Matern Child Health J. 2001 Jun;5(2):119-25. doi: 10.1023/a:1011353216619.


A growing literature suggests that maternal psychological and social stress is a significant and independent risk factor for a range of adverse reproductive outcomes including preterm birth. Several issues remain to be addressed about stress and vulnerability to stress during pregnancy. Of these, perhaps one of the most important questions relates to biologic plausibility. Parturition, the process that results in birth, is a biological phenomenon. Very little empirical research to date, however, has examined the role of biological processes, if any, as mediators of the relationship between stress and preterm birth. In this paper we discuss the maternal, placental, and fetal neuroendocrine, immune/inflammatory, and vascular processes that may bridge the experience of social adversity before and during pregnancy and the biological outcome of preterm birth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiopathology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Physiological / etiology*