Objective: Close relationships are associated with pregnancy outcomes, but little is known about the mechanisms involved. This paper examines whether quality of women's close relationships, specifically with romantic partner (RP) and closest friend or family member (CF), is associated with inflammatory biomarkers during the third trimester of pregnancy.
Methods: 90 pregnant women were assessed during the second and third trimester. At both visits they completed self-reports describing the positive and negative aspects of their RP and CF relationships. Peripheral blood was collected during these visits, and used to measure systemic levels of cytokines, including IFNγ, IL10, IL6, IL8 and IL13. An index of inflammatory regulation, as reflected by the ratio of IL6:IL10, was also computed.
Results: Positive (e.g. support, intimacy) and negative (e.g. conflict) aspects of the RP relationship interacted to predict third trimester cytokine values. Specifically, RP relationships relatively low in both positive and negative aspects were associated with lower third trimester anti-inflammatory (IL10, IL13) and anti-viral (IFNγ) cytokines, and a higher IL6:IL10 ratio, controlling for second trimester levels. These associations were independent of demographics, gestational age, weeks between assessment, parity, pre-pregnancy body mass index, maternal stress, distress, depressed mood and RP cohabitation. CF relationship aspects were not associated with inflammatory markers.
Conclusions: RP relationships relatively low in both positive, e.g. support and intimacy, and negative, e.g. conflict, aspects were associated with a less anti- and more pro-inflammatory cytokine profile during the third trimester. These findings have implications for understanding the associations amongst close relationships, inflammation, and potentially pregnancy outcomes.
Keywords: Close relationships; Conflict; Inflammation; Partner relationship; Pregnancy; Social support.
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