Study: Deployment Increases Pregnancy Risks for Stateside Moms

Senior Airman Joseph Tharp, a 9th Operations Support Squadron flight equipment technician, hugs his pregnant wife Sarah. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings)
Senior Airman Joseph Tharp, a 9th Operations Support Squadron flight equipment technician, hugs his pregnant wife Sarah. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings)

U.S. Army wives whose husbands are absent over their pregnancies are almost three times as likely to go into pre-term labor and almost twice as likely to experience post-partum depression as those who husbands are home, according to a new study.

“We’ve had a lot of research that’s come of our institutes on the effect that prolonged deployments has on the actual soldier,” said Dr. Christopher Tarney, an obstetrician, gynecologist and Army captain at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and lead author of the study.

“Just looking through those effects I had to imagine that there would be second effects, if you will, on the spouse and the family members,” he said.

The researchers examined data from 308 pregnant patients at Womack between 2012 and 2013. Of those whose husbands were deployed, 21.4 percent went into pre-term labor before their 37th week of pregnancy, yet only 8.9 percent of those whose husbands were home experienced the condition. Meanwhile, 16.4 percent of those whose husbands were gone had post-partum depression, while only 9 percent of those whose husbands were home did.

Soldiers, as well as other service members, frequently miss their wives’ pregnancies due to deployment or training. While leave may be granted to return for the birth of a child, it’s not guaranteed. A federal law gives service members 10 days of paternity leave after a birth of a child, but whether or not it gets used is up to individual commanders. 

While they did not test the women for any specific physical signs of stress during their pregnancies, the doctors hypothesized that the pre-term labor could have been caused by the emotional difficulty of having their husband deployed while also living in a place without a lot of personal support, Tarney said. Previous studies have linked pre-term labor with stress, he said.

“The stress of not knowing whether or not your loved one is alive or if he is going to make it through the deployment” could be a contributing factor, he said. “These women we are taking care of, a lot of them aren’t from Fort Bragg and for these first time moms they don’t have that social support.” 

Tarney he said he is not looking for Defense Department officials or lawmakers to make any specific changes to policy as a result of his research. Instead, he hopes to use the data to fuel a larger study that could confirm his conclusions as well as study whether or not other common pregnancy problems, such as pre-eclampsia and hypertension, could be linked to deployments. 

“The goal here is to do my best for these patients while their soldiers are deployed, and leave the policy to the policy makers,” he said.  

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com

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