The overlooked casualties of war: risks to pregnancies when spouses are deployed

America's servicemen and women contribute and sacrifice more for our country than we could ever quantify. The September Green Journal features an article that inspired me to take pause and give thanks to the men and women who protect our country as well as their families. We often do not take time to appreciate what others are doing to keep us safe, so I hope this research will inspire our dear readers to do just that. 

Dr. Tarney and colleagues from the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina conducted an interesting study about the effects of spousal deployment on pregnancy outcomes. Higher levels of stress have been linked to many pregnancy complications.  Scientists believe that the release of stress hormones may have a direct effect on uterine activity. The authors wanted to explore how pregnancy is affected when a pregnant woman's spouse is deployed to a combat zone, an incredibly high stress situation.

The authors enrolled 397 women who were either active-duty soldiers, spouses of active-duty soldiers, or dependents of active-duty soldiers, who delivered at the Army Medical Center from 2013-2014. 183 or 46% of these women were married to someone who was deployed to an active combat zone during the entire pregnancy. The control group included 214 or 54% of women whose spouses were not deployed during the pregnancy.

The study's results clearly show the effects of this burden on pregnancies. There was a 3.24 fold increased risk of preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks gestational age) and a 3 fold increased risk of postpartum depression. Some of the women were a part of a group prenatal care program, and the authors are hopeful that this community approach may provide women whose spouses are deployed with additional support during their pregnancy. In this study, the group prenatal care did not influence the pregnancy outcomes, but the study was not designed to test this effect, and thus further studies are needed to learn if a group-community approach will help to decrease the effects of this huge stressor.

The authors conclude, "... it is incumbent on us to find solutions to mitigate these risk factors because military commanders do not have the ability to prevent the deployment of soldiers with pregnant spouses as a result of operational constraints." I could not agree more. This study does an excellent job of highlighting one of the many "overlooked casualties of war" and hopefully will bring increased attention and new solutions to this important problem.