Maternal Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone and the Use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors Independently Predict the Occurrence of Preterm Birth


  • Gwen Latendresse CNM, PhD,

  • Roberta Jeanne Ruiz RN, PhD

Address correspondence to Gwen Latendresse, CNM, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah College of Nursing, 10 South 2000 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. E-mail:


Introduction: Studies support the premise that chronic maternal stress may trigger a premature sequence of physiologic events ending in preterm birth (PTB). Furthermore, chronic stress is highly correlated with depression and anxiety, which also are associated with PTB. However, some studies report that medication status rather than depression and/or anxiety may reflect the risk for PTB. Although the purpose of this small, preliminary study was to evaluate the association between chronic maternal stress and PTB, this report focuses on the unexpected finding of the association between maternal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and PTB.

Methods: A prospective cohort study of 100 pregnant women included measures of contributors to chronic maternal stress and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). Demographic and behavioral data included smoking, substance use, and use of medications for depression and anxiety.

Results: Pregnant women who used SSRIs to treat depression and/or anxiety were nearly 12 times more likely to give birth before term when compared with women who did not use these medications. Women with CRH levels in the fourth quartile were 6 times more likely to give birth before term when compared with women whose CRH levels were in the lower 3 quartiles. No associations were found between SSRI use and CRH levels.

Discussion: Associations between PTB and maternal use of SSRIs are not understood. It is important not to alter current approaches to the treatment of depression and anxiety without thorough discussion with women regarding the potential benefits and harms of various treatment options.