Study Uncovers New Risk Factor for Pregnancy

Posted: July 20, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

By Marjorie Musick

Pangiota Kitsantas. Creative Services photo

Panagiota Kitsantas. Creative Services photo

While losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare and a subject no one wants to think about, a Mason researcher studies infant mortality in an attempt to help prevent it.

“The loss of a pregnancy or a child not only yields great emotional and psychological turmoil for parents, but may also influence future pregnancy outcomes,” says Panagiota Kitsantas, assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in Mason’s Department of Health Administration and Policy.

“Infant mortality is a tough topic to talk about, but I hope that by studying it, we can help health professionals provide pregnant women with better care and support.”

In a study published in the International Journal of Medicine, Kitsantas found that women who had experienced a previous child death (defined as the death of a child from birth to 18 years of age) were more likely to suffer an infant death or deliver a premature or low-birth-weight infant in a subsequent pregnancy.

Kitsantas analyzed almost a half million birth and infant death records from the North Carolina Center for Health Statistics to estimate the risk of adverse birth outcomes in pregnancies preceded by a child’s death in a family.

Approximately 10,000 mothers in the sample, which included births that took place in North Carolina from 1999 to 2006, had experienced at least one previous child death. Sadly, these women were almost twice as likely to lose an infant in a subsequent pregnancy, experience a short gestation or deliver a low-birth-weight infant.

Kitsantas' study may help

Kitsantas' study may help health professionals provide better prenatal care to women at risk for adverse birth outcomes.

The mechanism by which a prior loss of a child affects subsequent pregnancy outcomes is not known and requires further study. Kitsantas hopes that by identifying the prior loss of a child as a risk factor, her research will help health professionals provide better care to these women, thereby encouraging healthier pregnancies.

“The death of a child is traumatic, and the stress from the loss may cause health problems that increase the mother’s risk for complications in a subsequent pregnancy. Regardless of racial or ethnic background, women who fit this profile can be at greater risk for adverse birth outcomes,” says Kitsantas.

“This study provides evidence that health care providers should examine a woman’s reproductive history and emotional well-being during prenatal care visits to ensure that those with a prior child loss get the appropriate support and treatment for successful pregnancy outcomes.”

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