Social Support During Pregnancy Linked to Birth Outcomes

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: August 12, 1994 This content is archived.


LOS ANGELES -- The support of family and friends during pregnancy can make a difference in the health and well-being of both mother and child, a University at Buffalo psychologist reported today (Friday, Aug. 12) at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Women with less social support during pregnancy exhibited poorer health and lifestyle behaviors, which in turn was associated with poorer birth outcomes, as found in a study by Ruth Zambrana of George Mason University, professors Christine Dunkel-Schetter and Susan Scrimshaw of UCLA, and Nancy Collins, assistant professor of psychology at UB.

The study found that women who reported less-than-adequate social support experienced more prenatal stress, had poorer nutritional habits and used more drugs during pregnancy than women who reported high levels of support. Women with high levels of stress were more likely to deliver their babies prematurely. Women with poor nutritional habits delivered babies with lower birthweights. And those who used more drugs had babies with lower Apgar scores and more neonatal complications.

The research team interviewed 911 pregnant public-clinic patients in Los Angeles County, all of whom were of Mexican descent, at approximately 30 weeks gestation. The women were questioned about the amount and quality of the support they had received, both from the baby's father and others, including family and friends; their stress levels; their nutritional habits, and illegal drug use. Birth outcomes, derived from the women's medical charts after delivery, included gestational age at delivery, birthweight, infant Apgar score and neonatal complications.

A previous study by Collins, Dunkel-Schetter and their colleagues, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found positive links between high levels and quality of social support and better birth outcomes. The current study, Collins said, extends those findings by exploring the specific mechanisms through which social support promotes maternal and infant health.

NOTE TO EDITORS AND REPORTERS: Nancy Collins can be reached in Los Angeles from Aug. 11-14 at 310-822-8881. She can be reached in Buffalo at 716-645-3650, ext. 344, starting Monday, Aug. 15. Anyone interested in receiving a copy of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology article can call Sue Wuetcher at the UB News Bureau at 716-645-2626.

"Women with supportive social environments may be receiving a number of important benefits during pregnancy," she said. "Supportive relationships may enhance feelings of well-being and personal control, thereby helping women to perceive their lives as less stressful. This may result in fewer stress-related health behaviors, such as smoking and drug use, and lower levels of stress-related biochemical responses, which may have adverse effects on fetal development.

"Tangible aid and assistance also should be important, especially for women with fewer economic resources," Collins added. "Family and friends can provide needed assistance with daily tasks, such as rides to the prenatal clinic, or with material goods, such as food and clothing."