Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Objectives: Maternal psychological distress during pregnancy has been associated with preterm birth. However, little is known about the relationship of a woman’s psychological symptoms during pregnancy to the infant’s morbidity at birth or any differential effects of these symptoms on female vs. male fetuses. Our research aims addressed these gaps.

Methods: A total of 186 women were enrolled between 24 and 34 weeks gestation when demographic information was acquired and they completed the Brief Symptom Inventory to measure psychological distress. Data on gestational age at birth, fetal sex, and neonatal morbidity was extracted from the medical record. To control for their effects, obstetric complications were also identified. Multiple linear regressions were computed to examine the aims, including interaction terms to measure moderating effects of fetal sex.

Results: Symptoms of maternal psychological distress were a significant predictor of neonatal morbidity but were not associated with gestational age. The interaction between symptom distress and fetal/infant sex was also significant for neonatal morbidity but not for gestational age. For boys, high levels of maternal symptom distress during pregnancy were associated with neonatal resuscitation, ventilatory assistance, and infection. Maternal distress was not associated with neonatal morbidity for girls.

Conclusions: The male fetus may be more sensitive to effects of mothers’ psychological symptoms than the female fetus. Further research is needed to confirm our findings and identify potential biological mechanisms that may be responsible for these sex differences. Findings suggest the importance of symptom screening and early intervention to reduce maternal distress and risk of neonatal morbidity.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Journal of Perinatal Medicine

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.