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Risk for premature deliveries doubles in soldiers just home from deployment

Active-duty servicewomen face an increased risk of having a premature baby if they give birth soon after returning from deployment.

Active-duty servicewomen face an increased risk of having a premature baby if they give birth soon after returning from deployment, a new Stanford study published today in the American Journal of Epidemiology has found.

Soldiers who become moms are less likely to deliver their babies prematurely than women in the general population, since they tend to be young and healthy. But, using data from 12,877 births to U.S. soldiers, the Stanford researchers found that women who gave birth within six months of deployment were twice as likely as other soldiers to have a baby born at least three weeks early. Our press release explains:

'What's important is the timing of deployment,' said lead author Jonathan Shaw, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford. 'Pregnancies that overlapped with deployment or the period of returning home were much more likely to end in preterm birth, which has impacts not only on the health of the infant, but also on the mother and family.'

Babies born prematurely face several types of health risks and families may experience more challenges in meeting their needs.

Fortunately, the study found that women who gave birth more than six months after coming home from deployment didn't face an increased prematurity risk. The findings could help the military better advise their soldiers, Shaw explained:

'This study shows that the time around deployment is a period during which we should empower our soldiers to prevent unintended pregnancies,' Shaw said. In addition, these findings could be used to help counsel soldiers who plan to have children during their years of military service.

'It's reassuring that deployment itself is not a risk factor for having a premature baby,' Shaw said. But soldiers should know about the risks of becoming pregnant around the time they are deployed, he added. 'We could tell them, 'It's a pretty stressful time; consider returning home and settling in for a few months before you add to your family.'

Photo by U.S. Department of Defense

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