by Marci Lobel, Ph.D., Carla J. DeVincent,
M.A. Anita Kaminer, Ph.D. & Bruce A. Meyer, M.D.

The American Psychological Association has announced research showing that optimism can reduce the chance of delivering low birth weight or pre-term babies for medically high-risk pregnant women. Psychologist Marci Lobel, Ph.D., and colleagues examined 129 women between 20 and 43 years old who were considered at high risk for early delivery and low birth weight to determine if those with an optimistic outlook had a better chance of having a healthy baby. The women were at medical risk because of chronic medical conditions (such as hypertension or diabetes) or previous medical problems (such as miscarriages) or because of complications in their current pregnancy (such as bleeding or preeclampsia).

Optimism was determined by asking the women how much they agree or disagree to statements like, "I always look on the bright side, I always expect the best, I hardly ever expect things to go my way". Women with higher scores were more likely to eat nutritional food and exercise during pregnancy, said the authors.

"The women who were the least optimistic during pregnancy delivered lower birth weight infants," said Dr. Lobel. "Although less optimistic women also reported more stress during pregnancy, stress alone is not the culprit; a woman's outlook on her life and the health behaviors she practiced during pregnancy were the factors that influenced her birth outcomes. More optimistic women had better birth outcomes in part because they exercised more frequently, which improved a baby's greater gestational age at birth."

These findings suggest that the absence of optimism may be as "important to maternal and fetal health as other factors like medical risk which have traditionally received greater attention," said Dr. Lobel. Other research shows that optimism can be learned and that women with positive states of mind cope more effectively with stress during pregnancy. Learning how to construct positive expectancies and solve problems holds promise as an intervention against adverse birth outcomes, suggest the authors.


References: "The Impact of Prenatal Maternal Stress and Optimistic Disposition on Birth Outcomes in Medically High-Risk Women," Marci Lobel, Ph.D., Carla J. DeVincent, M.A., Anita Kaminer, Ph.D. and Bruce A. Meyer, M.D.; Health Psychology, Vol. 19, No. 6.

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