Stress, social support and pregnancy outcome: a reassessment based on recent research

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 1996 Oct;10(4):380-405. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3016.1996.tb00063.x.


We present an assessment of studies published in the last decade that consider the relationship of stress and social support to preterm delivery or fetal growth retardation. Included in the review are all reports on the direct effects of stressors or psychological distress; the indirect effects of stressors or distress through health behaviours such as smoking; and the direct and buffering effects of social support. Although an important stimulus for recent stress research has been the attempt to explain racial and social class differences in birth outcome, the recent data show that stressful life events during pregnancy, though more common in disadvantaged groups, do not increase the risk of preterm birth. In contrast, intimate social support from a partner or family member appears to improve fetal growth, even for women with little life stress. Questions unanswered by the research to date are whether elevated levels of depressive symptoms affect pregnancy outcome, either directly or by encouraging negative health behaviours, and whether chronic (vs. acute) stressors are harmful. Additional research is also needed to determine whether psychosocial factors interact with specific clinical conditions to promote adverse pregnancy outcomes. Focusing on intimate support and how it benefits pregnancy outcome could lead to the design of more effective interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / psychology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome* / ethnology
  • Pregnancy Outcome* / psychology
  • Research
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Physiological / ethnology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • United States