Women's health in early pregnancy: findings from an Australian nulliparous cohort study

Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2010 Oct;50(5):413-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2010.01204.x.


Background: Much is known about severe maternal morbidity during pregnancy, but there has been little attention paid to the impact of pregnancy itself on women's general health and well-being.

Aim: To investigate women's general health and well-being in early pregnancy and examine the relationship between maternal age and women's physical and mental health.

Method: Cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from a multicentre, prospective nulliparous pregnancy cohort study. The baseline questionnaire included the SF-36 health status measure and individual items assessing a range of common maternal health issues.

Results: A total of 1507 eligible women returned baseline questionnaires in early pregnancy (mean gestation 15 weeks, range 6-24 weeks) ranging from 18 to 49 years of age (mean age 30.1 years). Study participants reported significantly poorer health compared with age and gender-standardised population means on all SF-36 scales except general health. Two-thirds of women (68%) reported three or more health issues, the most common being exhaustion (87%), nausea (64%), back pain (46%), constipation (44%) and severe headaches/migraines (30%). Younger women (18-24 years) had significantly lower SF-36 scores (poorer self perceived health) compared with women ≥ 35 (P ≤ 0.03). After adjusting for socio-demographic factors, maternal age remained significantly positively associated with women's mental and physical component scores. Younger women reported significantly more health issues than women ≥ 35 (4.39 and 3.27, mean difference = 1.12, 95% CI 0.75-1.79, P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Common pregnancy symptoms have a marked impact on women's physical and mental health in early pregnancy, with the greatest impact apparent for younger women.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Constipation / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fatigue / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Headache / epidemiology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Maternal Age*
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nausea / epidemiology
  • Parity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First / psychology
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult