Deleterious and Protective Psychosocial and Stress-Related Factors Predict Risk of Spontaneous Preterm Birth

Martin Becker, Jonathan A. Mayo, Nisha K. Phogat, Cecele C. Quaintance, Ana Laborde, Lucy King, Ian H. Gotlib, Brice Gaudilliere, Martin S. Angst, Gary M. Shaw, David K. Stevenson, Nima Aghaeepour, Firdaus S. Dhabhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives The aim of the study was to: (1) Identify (early in pregnancy) psychosocial and stress-related factors that predict risk of spontaneous preterm birth (PTB, gestational age <37 weeks); (2) Investigate whether protective factors (e.g., happiness/social support) decrease risk; (3) Use the Dhabhar Quick-Assessment Questionnaire for Stress and Psychosocial Factors™ (DQAQ-SPF™) to rapidly quantify harmful or protective factors that predict increased or decreased risk respectively, of PTB. Study Design This is a prospective cohort study. Relative risk (RR) analyses investigated association between individual factors and PTB. Machine learning-based interdependency analysis (IDPA) identified factor clusters, strength, and direction of association with PTB. A nonlinear model based on support vector machines was built for predicting PTB and identifying factors that most strongly predicted PTB. Results Higher levels of deleterious factors were associated with increased RR for PTB: General anxiety (RR = 8.9; 95% confidence interval or CI = 2.0,39.6), pain (RR = 5.7; CI = 1.7,17.0); tiredness/fatigue (RR = 3.7; CI = 1.09,13.5); perceived risk of birth complications (RR = 4; CI = 1.6,10.01); self-rated health current (RR = 2.6; CI = 1.0,6.7) and previous 3 years (RR = 2.9; CI = 1.1,7.7); and divorce (RR = 2.9; CI = 1.1,7.8). Lower levels of protective factors were also associated with increased RR for PTB: low happiness (RR = 9.1; CI = 1.25,71.5); low support from parents/siblings (RR = 3.5; CI = 0.9,12.9), and father-of-baby (RR = 3; CI = 1.1,9.9). These factors were also components of the clusters identified by the IDPA: perceived risk of birth complications (p < 0.05 after FDR correction), and general anxiety, happiness, tiredness/fatigue, self-rated health, social support, pain, and sleep (p < 0.05 without FDR correction). Supervised analysis of all factors, subject to cross-validation, produced a model highly predictive of PTB (AUROC or area under the receiver operating characteristic = 0.73). Model reduction through forward selection revealed that even a small set of factors (including those identified by RR and IDPA) predicted PTB. Conclusion These findings represent an important step toward identifying key factors, which can be assessed rapidly before/after conception, to predict risk of PTB, and perhaps other adverse pregnancy outcomes. Quantifying these factors, before, or early in pregnancy, could identify women at risk of delivering preterm, pinpoint mechanisms/targets for intervention, and facilitate the development of interventions to prevent PTB. Key Points Newly designed questionnaire used for rapid quantification of stress and psychosocial factors early during pregnancy. Deleterious factors predict increased preterm birth (PTB) risk. Protective factors predict decreased PTB risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Perinatology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • anxiety
  • chronic stress
  • life events
  • machine learning
  • predicting preterm birth
  • pregnancy
  • psychosocial factors
  • sleep
  • social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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