In a study that included data from over 20,000 births, about 20% percent of women who were born early–before 32 weeks–developed at least one complication, (gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, for example), during pregnancy.
Of the women born between 32-36 weeks, 13% percent had pregnancy complications and of the women born at full term as few as 11% experienced complications.
“Our study showed that preterm birth was a substantial risk factor for pregnancy complications, especially among women who were born before 32 weeks,” the researchers wrote in the in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Since the survival rates of early preterm babies has vastly improved over the last few decades, researchers wonder if we’ll see more rates of pregnancy complications– and other conditions like cardiovascular disease– going up.
The study involved data gathered on Canadian women, born between 1976 and 1995, who later had a baby (or more) between 1987 and 2008. The majority of women– 16,714–were born at term, 7,405 women were born prematurely. The data showed that the earlier a woman was born the higher the risk for pregnancy complication even when other factors like mom’s age and pre-existing health were taken into account. There was also a correlation between low birth weight and pregnancy complications.
It’s unclear exactly why these connections are there. Other research has shown a link between preterm birth and other health problems such as higher insulin resistance and higher blood pressure (which are related to an increase risk of cardiovascular disease). One thought is that maybe there are some risk factors in women who had been born prematurely that become an issue only during pregnancy.
Though the findings are compelling, William Mundle, a spokesperson for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, cautions, “we’d want to see other studies that confirm this information before we start adding a huge extra burden, in terms of the worry that the pregnant women have.”
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