The role of stress in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia has only been investigated in a few studies, and the findings are not conclusive. We analyzed whether maternal bereavement shortly before or during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia. We conducted a cohort study of singleton births in Denmark during 1978-2008 and in Sweden during 1973-2006 (n=4 122 490) by linking national population-based registers. Mothers were considered exposed to bereavement if they lost a parent, a sibling, a partner, or a child the year before or during pregnancy (n=124 553). The risk of preeclampsia was slightly increased for women who lost a close relative during the 6 months before conception (odds ratio [OR], 1.14; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.06-1.23) or during the first trimester of pregnancy (OR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.03-1.29). Exposure during these periods tended to be more closely related to early preeclampsia (delivery before 34 weeks of gestation; OR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.12-1.67) than to late preeclampsia (OR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.06-1.20). The strongest association was observed between loss of a child and early preeclampsia when the exposure window was from 6 months before pregnancy until start of second trimester (OR, 4.03; 95% CI, 2.46-6.61). Our results related to timing of exposure suggest that severe stress may influence early placentation. However, the public health implications of our findings are limited in populations with a low prevalence of severe stress exposures.
Keywords: bereavement; cohort study; placentation; preeclampsia; psychological stress.