Alarming New Study Links Military Deployments With Preterm Labor and Postpartum Depression

deploymentEveryone knows how stressful deployment can be for a family. But that stress might put an even bigger strain on the well-being of military parents and kids than we thought: A recent study linked deployments to a higher rate of preterm deliveries and postpartum depression.


The study was conducted on patients at Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center, and is one of the first of its kind according to lead author Capt. Christopher Tarney, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology.

"There was lots of research about the warfighter and the effects of deployment," says Tarney. "On family members? Not a lot of data."

And the data Tarney and his colleagues came up with is definitely sobering. They found that women with deployed spouses were more than twice as likely to give birth early, while their risk of postpartum depression almost doubled. With numbers like those, it's no wonder that in the study, these family members are referred to as "overlooked casualties of war."

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Pretty bleak stuff, to be sure -- especially considering that babies born are at a greater risk of developing central nervous system disorders, chronic respiratory problems, infections, developmental impairments, cardiovascular disorders, and cognitive dysfunction. That's a pretty huge price to pay, but there is a silver lining to the study, at least the way Tarney looks at it: These new findings are bringing increased attention to the problem, and with that attention comes interest in finding solutions.

"A lot of us are putting more attention onto it," he says. "I definitely hope it does open floodgates. We owe it to our population."

Indeed. Among the solutions proposed by Tarney and his team are grouping pregnant women with similar due dates together for doctor appointments and the like to create a social structure pregnant women might not have otherwise with their husbands deployed (especially because military families are often stationed far away from their parents, siblings, and other relatives).

Sounds like a good start -- it takes a village and all that -- but I'm sure greater efforts will be necessary before we see any real change happen for military wives. Both pregnancy and the postpartum period are hard enough times under the best of circumstances, and women need a lot of support (especially if they have other kids to take care of). So let's hope that free/affordable child care and home care somehow factor into these solutions, too. (And while we're at it, free pre- and postnatal wellness classes like yoga wouldn't be such a bad idea, either!) After all, there's nothing like a sick baby to add even more stress into the lives of these families -- so keeping pregnant military wives healthy should be a top priority.

Image via California National Guard/Flickr

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