Moving Home During Early Pregnancy Could Raise Risk of Premature Birth, Low Birth Weight

Expectant mothers who move house early on in their pregnancy may be risking the health of their baby, scientists have warned.

Moving home in the first trimester was linked to a 37 percent higher chance of low birth weight and a 42 percent greater chance of premature birth compared with women who didn't.

Researchers analyzed data from over 100,000 birth certificates in Washington State collected between 2007 to 2014 to find out whether moving home during the first trimester was linked to a fetus being underweight for gestational age; as well as babies being born with a low birth rate and or prematurely. The team also took into account factors like the age, race, marital status, income, and education level of the women, as well as lifestyle choices like whether they smoked.

The team found 28,011 women moved home during the first trimester of pregnancy, while 112,367 didn't.

The authors of the paper published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health explained that moving home is relatively common in the U.S., particularly among young adults in major transition periods of life, such as having a child. Past research indicates between 11 to 25 percent of women change residence when they are pregnant, an experience which can be stressful.

"Our study is consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to a stressful event in the first trimester increases the risk of adverse birth outcomes," the authors wrote.

young couple, relationship, moving house, home, stock
A stock image of a couple moving house. Expectant mothers moving house could risk their fetus's health, according to researchers. Getty

As the study was observational, the researchers couldn't confirm a cause for the link. But they believe moving home could prevent a woman from accessing regular healthcare, or could put her under physical and psychological stress.

Study co-author Julia Bond at the University of Washington School of Public Health told Newsweek the team didn't know why the participants were moving home. It would have been interesting to see how different reasons, for instance moving to a larger home versus being evicted, might impact the results, she said.

Asked whether pregnant people should avoid moving house, Bond said they should work with their care teams to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

"Pregnancy is a time of life when it makes sense for many people to move, and at this point we don't have enough information to make detailed recommendations," she said. "Until more research is published, I think pregnant people should discuss their moving plans with their care team, and work with their healthcare providers to make sure that they are minimizing stress throughout."

Nadja Reissland, professor in psychology at Durham University, U.K., who did not work on the paper, commented in a statement: "Interestingly it seems that if you are well off the stress of moving house seems to be less important than if you are poor. This seems to point to the fact that it might be stress in general which is the main factor, rather than whether it be moving house, or losing a job."

She added: "Women should not worry too much if they have to move house as the increased risk of harm to their unborn child is very small."

Dr. Virginia Beckett, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the U.K.'s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, recommended finding the time to relax and rest as much as possible, and talking to a partner, friend or healthcare professional about any negative feelings while moving house.

"Eating well, avoiding too much caffeine, and doing physical activity will also help to improve health and well-being during pregnancy," she said.

The American Pregnancy Association advises against heavy lifting while pregnant, as this has been linked to premature labor and low birth weight.

This article was updated to correct the name of the journal in which the study was published.