The association between maternal psychological state during pregnancy and birth outcomes is well established. The focus of previous studies has been on the potentially detrimental consequences of maternal stress on pregnancy and birth outcomes, particularly shortened gestation and increased risk of preterm birth. Despite a growing literature linking positive affect with favorable health outcomes this construct has received little attention in the context of pregnancy. Therefore, in the current study, we tested the hypothesis that maternal positive affect during pregnancy is associated with beneficial consequences in terms of increased length of gestation and reduced risk of preterm birth above that of the absence of stress.
In 169 pregnant women maternal positive affect and perceived stress were serially assessed at 15.2 ± 0.9 weeks (T1; mean ± SD), 19.7 ± 0.9 weeks (T2) and 30.7 ± 0.7 weeks (T3) gestation. Pregnancy and birth outcomes were abstracted from the medical record.
Higher maternal positive affect and a steeper increase in maternal positive affect over pregnancy were positively associated with length of gestation (p < .05) and reduced risk of preterm delivery (p < .01), whereas maternal perceived stress was not significantly associated with shorter length of gestation (p > .10).
These findings suggest that maternal positive affect may be beneficial for outcomes related to the length gestation, and that this effect cannot be accounted for by the lower stress levels associated with higher positive affect. Interventions to increase maternal positive affect may be beneficial for fetal development.