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According to the 2023 Australian Child Maltreatment Study nearly two in three Australians (62.2%) reported that they had experienced at least one form of child maltreatment (58.4% of males and 65.5% of females).

We know that adverse experiences in childhood – such as domestic violence or substance abuse are linked to a range of negative outcomes throughout a person’s life. But the high-level impacts on pregnancy have not been well-understood, a gap this research from the University of Queensland sought to address.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of existing papers which looked at associations between traumatic childhood experiences and complications during pregnancy – things like depression or anxiety during pregnancy, as well as adverse birth outcomes like low birth weight, preterm birth or stillbirth. Papers were assessed for their quality and bias, and data were extracted to inform the meta-analysis. In all, 32 studies were included in the final review.

Researchers found that there was a clear association between adverse childhood experiences and pregnancy complications. In particular, people who experienced these childhood events were 37 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, 39 per cent more likely to develop antenatal depression, 59 per cent more likely to have a baby with a low birth weight and 41 per cent more likely to have a premature delivery.

While the research demonstrates the critical importance of preventing childhood trauma and abuse, it also points to contextual factors that may be of interest to clinicians. If abuse is a known element of a patient’s history, they may be at greater risk of poor pregnancy outcomes and need additional support or intervention at this time.


Further information

The prevalence and impact of child maltreatment in Australia: Findings from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study: 2023 Brief Report – The Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS)

The impact of childhood trauma –

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