The study, which was published in the Psychosomatic Medicine Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, found “statistically significant correlations” between exposure to life-threatening rocket attacks in Sderot and spontaneous abortions (more commonly known as miscarriages) and prenatal maternal stress.
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The authors explain in the study that the Israeli southern town of Sderot had been the constant target of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip since 2001.
Between April 2001 and December 2008, more than 1,000 rocket alarms were sounded in or near Sderot, with 500 of them during 2008 alone. Out of the 1,132 women who took part in the study from Sderot, only seven had never experienced a siren six months before and during pregnancy.
The researchers – Tamar Wainstock and Professor Ilana Shoham-Vardi from the Department of Epidemiology, Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben Gurion, and their colleagues, Dr. Liat Lerner-Geva and Saralee Glasser, both of the Gertner Institute at Tel Hashomer and Dr. Eyal Anteby of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon – compared two groups of women with similar health characteristics from Kiryat Gat and Sderot.
Wainstock told Tazpit News Agency that there was medical literature which had found associations between prenatal stress and adverse pregnancy outcomes from difficult situations including natural disaster, terror attacks, and war.
“We thought that the women in Sderot might also suffer stress and felt that this must be studied,” Wainstock said. The author also cited that the stress was reflected in the rise of prescriptions for anxiety medication across southern Israel in past years.
Kiryat Gat was chosen as the “unexposed” city that was compared with Sderot for several reasons. The city’s socioeconomic and demographic features were very similar to Sderot and pregnant women from both cities took part in the study at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center which serves both populations.
It is also important to note that during the time period that was chosen to record the women, Kiryat Gat was still out of rocket range, although during Operation Cast Lead and since then, the city has been the target of rocket attacks from Gaza as well.
The final study population included records of 3,488 pregnancies of 2937 women, 1,132 from Sderot and 1,805 from Kiryat Gat. It was found that women in Sderot exposed to the stress of a rocket environment had higher rates of miscarriages than women in Kiryat Gat who did not suffer from that kind of stress (6.9% versus 4.7%).
The perceived stress level among Sderot women was also higher, with the exposed group scoring 4.36 on the stress questionnaire and the unexposed group, 3.05.
“The findings demonstrate a significantly increased risk of SA among women exposed to potentially life-threatening situations for a prolonged period, both before and during pregnancy, compared with women of similar demographic characteristics who were not exposed to missile-attack alarms or missile attacks,” the authors wrote.
The researchers theorized that one possible reason for miscarriages was an increase in Cortisol due to the stress. They suggested that it was important to assess the level of stress among women at the very early stages of pregnancies and in couples trying to conceive.
Wainstock also added that she believed that the study was important because “it may be relevant to many women, especially since rocket attacks and alarms have been sounded in much wider ranges (across southern Israel) since 2008.”
Anav Silverman lived for two years in the city of Sderot, Israel where she experienced constant rocket attacks on the city working as an international media liaison and frontline reporter between 2007-2009.
Reprinted with permission from the Tazpit News Agency