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Keywords:

  • Abuse;
  • birthweight;
  • childhood maltreatment;
  • gestational age;
  • health disparities;
  • perinatal outcomes;
  • post-traumatic;
  • stress disorder

Please cite this paper as: Seng J, Low L, Sperlich M, Ronis D, Liberzon I. Post-traumatic stress disorder, child abuse history, birthweight and gestational age: a prospective cohort study. BJOG 2011;118:1329–1339.

Objective  To determine the extent to which prenatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with lower birthweight and shorter gestation, and to explore the effects of childhood maltreatment as the antecedent trauma exposure.

Design  Prospective three-cohort study.

Setting  Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan, United States.

Sample  In all, 839 diverse nulliparas in PTSD-positive (= 255), trauma-exposed, resilient (= 307) and non-exposed to trauma (= 277) cohorts.

Methods  Standardised telephone interview before 28 weeks of gestation to ascertain trauma history, PTSD, depression, substance use, mental health treatment history and sociodemographics, with chart abstraction to obtain chronic condition history, antepartum complications and prenatal care data, as well as outcomes.

Main outcome measures  Infant birthweight and gestational age per delivery record.

Results  Infants born to women with PTSD during pregnancy had a mean birthweight 283 g less than infants of trauma-exposed, resilient women and 221 g less than infants of non-exposed women (F3,835 = 5.4, P = 0.001). PTSD was also associated with shorter gestation in multivariate models that took childhood abuse history into account. Stratified models indicated that PTSD subsequent to child abuse trauma exposure was most strongly associated with adverse outcomes. PTSD was a stronger predictor than African American race of shorter gestation and a nearly equal predictor of birthweight. Prenatal care was not associated with better outcomes among women abused in childhood.

Conclusions  Abuse-related PTSD may be an additional or alternative explanation for adverse perinatal outcomes associated with low socio-economic status and African American race in the USA. Biological and interventions research is warranted along with replication studies in other nations.