These Three Lifestyle Factors Lower Risk of Preterm Birth by 70 Percent

"Overall, this is a call for investing in women’s health over their lifespans, not just during pregnancy."
ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
May 26, 2021
Pregnant woman in the kitchen with her partner eating a healthy breakfast.
Image: Getty Images

There are numerous reasons to live a healthy lifestyle, but one recent study is adding another one to the list for pregnant women: lowered risk of preterm birth.

The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at a diverse group of approximately 2,500 women in Northern California before pregnancy and in their first 12 weeks of pregnancy. They found that a combination of three healthy lifestyle factors—healthy weight, diet, and stress—were associated with a 70 percent lower chance of premature delivery than women without any of those lifestyle factors.

Preterm birth occurs before 37 weeks and is the second-leading cause of neonatal mortality in the United States. While risk factors for preterm birth include genetic traits, medical conditions, and lifestyle factors, the study focused on lifestyle factors that could be modified. According to the study, the more healthy factors a pregnant woman has, the lower her chances of early birth. A woman with a healthy weight, diet and stress levels had a 70 percent lowered risk, while a woman with two of these factors had a 51 percent lowered risk and a woman with one factor had a 38 percent lowered risk.

In the study, the researchers noted the women who had delivered early were more likely to be older, suffer from obesity prior to pregnancy, have a history of hypertension or depression or self-identified as African American, Asian, or Pacific Islander.

“These findings highlight the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle versus focusing on individual risk factors,“ lead author Yeyi Zhu, PhD, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, said in a press release. “Multiple prenatal factors influence one another and are difficult to disentangle. We hope this combination approach produces useful information for women and their doctors.”

“Overall, this is a call for investing in women’s health over their lifespans, not just during pregnancy, which can be considered a societal responsibility as well as a capability of large integrated health care organizations such as ours,” Mara Greenberg, MD, perinatal clinical and research director with the Kaiser Permanente Regional Perinatal Service Center, also said in the release. “Such an investment also stands to reduce well-described disparities in preterm birth.”

Of course, each woman’s experience is different, and not every aspect of a woman’s health is in her control. But the study notes that offering more support to women in areas of health that are within their control may help to decrease the rates of preterm birth in America.

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