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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAlbany: Social Support During Pregnancy Could Mitigate Negative Effects of Maternal Adverse childhood experiences on birth outcomes

Childhood adversity such as neglect, abuse, and household dysfunction can negatively affect women’s health — including pregnancy health and birth outcomes. However, studies have shown that social support during pregnancy can promote healthy birth outcomes. Drs. Allison Appleton and Lawrence Schell recently studied social support during pregnancy to examine how this support may mitigate the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on infant birth size, providing the first evidence that social support can provide some buffer against the impacts of ACEs.

Data were taken from the Albany Infant and Mother Study (AIMS), which examined pregnant women aged 18-40 and their infants born at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York. Clinical information was recorded about the women’s exposures, health, and delivery and the infants’ birth size and characteristics. ACEs were assessed with a questionnaire about experiences prior to age 18 and social support was determined using a survey that measured social resources and relationships.

The research team found that higher ACEs were associated with higher cephalization scores, a marker of asymmetric fetal growth, whereas higher social support was associated with lower cephalization scores. Tangible and emotional support, but not informational support, contributed to these associations.

As one of the first studies to test whether social support during pregnancy can mitigate the risk associated with ACEs and promote healthy fetal growth, these results show that further examination of ACES — particularly how they may become biologically embedded during childhood — may help to provide further insight into the impact on birth outcomes.