The British Journal of Psychiatry

Abstract

Background

Prenatal loss, the death of a fetus/child through miscarriage or stillbirth, is associated with significant depression and anxiety, particularly in a subsequent pregnancy.

Aims

This study examined the degree to which symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with a previous loss persisted following a subsequent successful pregnancy.

Method

Data were derived from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort, a longitudinal cohort study in the west of England that has followed mothers from pregnancy into the postnatal period. A total of 13 133 mothers reported on the number and conditions of previous perinatal losses and provided self-report measures of depression and anxiety at 18 and 32 weeks’ gestation and at 8 weeks and 8, 21 and 33 months postnatally. Controls for pregnancy outcome and obstetric and psychosocial factors were included.

Results

Generalised estimating equations indicated that the number of previous miscarriages/stillbirths significantly predicted symptoms of depression (β = 0.18, s.e. = 0.07, P<0.01) and anxiety (β = 0.14, s.e. = 0.05, P<0.01) in a subsequent pregnancy, independent of key psychosocial and obstetric factors. This association remained constant across the pre- and postnatal period, indicating that the impact of a previous prenatal loss did not diminish significantly following the birth of a healthy child.

Conclusions

Depression and anxiety associated with a previous prenatal loss shows a persisting pattern that continues after the birth of a subsequent (healthy) child. Interventions targeting women with previous prenatal loss may improve the health outcomes of women and their children.