Female soldiers who give birth within six months of returning from military deployment face twice the risk of having a pre-term baby as other active-duty servicewomen, a new study has found.
The researchers at Stanford University say that these findings indicate a need for better pregnancy planning services for women in the military.
Of the women in the study who gave birth within six months of returning from deployment, 74 percent had been deployed in the period seven to 10 months before giving birth, suggesting that conception occurred during deployment in many cases.
Premature infants are at a higher risk for breathing problems, infections and are more likely to have lifelong developmental and learning disabilities.
Soldiers who give birth within six months of returning from deployment face twice the risk of premature delivery as other active-duty servicewomen, a Stanford University study has found (file image)
The study examined nearly 13,000 births to American soldiers from 2011-14 using anonymous medical and administrative information from the Stanford Military Data Repository.
'This database allows us to explore the universal issue of healthy mothers and babies, and also the pragmatic issue of how scientific insights can support our servicewomen and contribute to military readiness,' said Lianne Kurina, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Stanford and senior author of the study.
The findings show that 6.1 percent of the servicewomen studied gave birth prematurely, meaning the baby was delivered three or more weeks early.
That rate is considerably lower than that of the general US population, which was 9.8 percent in 2016.
The researchers attributed this to the fact that soldiers generally have low rates of known prematurity risk factors such as obesity and older age.
However, among women who had recently returned from deployment, 11.7 percent of deliveries were premature.
The soldiers who gave birth soon after deployment were, on average, younger than other military moms, and had lower education and lower income.
'What's important is the timing of deployment,' lead author Dr Jonathan Shaw, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford, said.
'Pregnancies that overlapped with deployment or the period of returning home were much more likely to end in preterm birth, which has impacts not only on the health of the infant, but also on the mother and family.'
A baby is considered premature if it is born three or more weeks before the intended due date.
Premature babies are at risk for a number of health problems, some of which have lifelong consequences. It also causes higher stress