Childhood adversity, social support, and telomere length among perinatal women

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018 Jan;87:43-52. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.10.003. Epub 2017 Oct 5.


Adverse perinatal health outcomes are heightened among women with psychosocial risk factors, including childhood adversity and a lack of social support. Biological aging could be one pathway by which such outcomes occur. However, data examining links between psychosocial factors and indicators of biological aging among perinatal women are limited. The current study examined the associations of childhood socioeconomic status (SES), childhood trauma, and current social support with telomere length in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in a sample of 81 women assessed in early, mid, and late pregnancy as well as 7-11 weeks postpartum. Childhood SES was defined as perceived childhood social class and parental educational attainment. Measures included the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale, Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, and average telomere length in PBMCs. Per a linear mixed model, telomere length did not change across pregnancy and postpartum visits; thus, subsequent analyses defined telomere length as the average across all available timepoints. ANCOVAs showed group differences by perceived childhood social class, maternal and paternal educational attainment, and current family social support, with lower values corresponding with shorter telomeres, after adjustment for possible confounds. No effects of childhood trauma or social support from significant others or friends on telomere length were observed. Findings demonstrate that while current SES was not related to telomeres, low childhood SES, independent of current SES, and low family social support were distinct risk factors for cellular aging in women. These data have relevance for understanding potential mechanisms by which early life deprivation of socioeconomic and relationship resources affect maternal health. In turn, this has potential significance for intergenerational transmission of telomere length. The predictive value of markers of biological versus chronological age on birth outcomes warrants investigation.

Keywords: Childhood SES; Childhood trauma; Pregnancy; Social support; Telomeres.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Life Change Events
  • Parturition / physiology
  • Perinatal Care
  • Postnatal Care
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Telomere / physiology
  • Telomere Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Telomere Shortening / physiology