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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers: Study Finds that Stress and Plastic Additives in Late Pregnancy Raise Risk of Premature Birth

A recent study co-authored by Rutgers School of Public Health faculty found that women exposed simultaneously to stress and plastic additives late in pregnancy are at increased risk for premature birth, according to a study by Rutgers and other institutions.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, is the first to analyze a link between stress and phthalates – a group of chemicals in plastics, personal care products and electronics – and premature births. The findings are the latest in the Infant Development and the Environment Study, which tracked 783 women throughout their pregnancies between 2010 and 2012.

“Both exposure to phthalates and high levels of stress have been individually linked to births before 37 weeks gestation, but how these two risk factors may influence each other had not been previously explored,” said co-author Dr. Emily Barrett, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health and Member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. “Our research suggests that the third trimester is the critical window for these risks.”

While stress itself is not related to the exposure of these plastic additives, stress can affect the immune system, lead to inflammation and change hormone levels, potentially making these women more vulnerable to the adverse effects of phthalates.

Dr. Barrett said other factors – how a woman perceives stress, how she uses social supports to lessen stress and the total number of stress events in her life – can affect how stress during pregnancy affects her child’s health. The researcher recommends that pregnant women limit their exposure to phthalates by eating less processed foods and reducing use of plastics and personal care products.

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