Early pregnancy house move linked to premature birth risk

Despite poorer health in children being frequently associated with moving house, there is little known about the effect of a house move on a pregnancy.

“Our results yield important insights regarding moving during pregnancy”


Researchers have attempted to correct this by studying births to mothers aged 18 and above in Washington state, USA, between 2007 and 2014.

The researchers randomly selected 30,000 women, all of whom had moved house during their first trimester of pregnancy. These women were matched with 120,000 randomly selected mothers of the same birth year who had not moved house during the beginning of their pregnancy.

The study focused on the first three months of pregnancy because previous research had showed that disturbances during these early stages were more likely to affect the health of the baby than those in the later trimesters.

The final analysis – published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health – included 28,011 women who had moved early in pregnancy and 112,451 who had not.

The researchers found mothers who had moved house during early pregnancy were more likely to be younger, less educated and reside in areas with a lower average household income than mothers who had not moved. These women were also more likely to have smoked while pregnant and be unmarried.

While these are all also risk factors for low birthweight, premature birth, and smaller than expected size babies, researchers found that after taking these factors into account, moving house during the first trimester was linked with a 37% increased risk of low birthweight (6.4% vs 4.5%), a 42% increased risk of premature birth (9.1% vs 6.4%) and a slight 9% increased risk of giving birth to a smaller than expected sized baby (9.8% vs 8.7%).

In the report, called Residence change during the first trimester of pregnancy and adverse birth outcomes, researchers noted these disparities existed across women in all social and economic strata.

However, by conducting an observational study, the researchers could not determine the reasons for their results. Factors such as the reasons for the house move and what type of area the women moved to were unknown, both of which may have been influential on the results.

“Midwives will be able to help here with advice around techniques to reduce stress”

Birte Harlev-Lam

While recognising these limitations, the researchers commented that “our results yield important insights regarding moving during pregnancy”. They suggest that interruptions to healthcare, the physical strain of moving, disruptions to social support, and a biological stress reaction could all have potentially influenced the results.

The researchers concluded: “Regardless of whether the negative impact of moving is driven by the stress from the move itself, stressful situations leading to a move, or disruption of care because of the move, asking patients about plans to move and using that as an opportunity to counsel patients on stress mitigating techniques and care continuity may be beneficial.”

Commenting on the research, Birte Harlev-Lam, executive director for professional leadership at the Royal College of Midwives, said midwives could offer support to women moving house early in their pregnancy. 

“Moving house can be a stressful experience and there is some evidence that stress in early pregnancy can have a negative impact on the woman and her pregnancy,” she said. 

“We would advise pregnant women who are moving house to avoid any heavy lifting and to take regular rests and to discuss it with their midwife who will offer support and advice. Try to plan the move as much as possible to reduce the stress we all know it can cause. Midwives will be able to help here with advice around techniques to reduce stress and can signpost women to additional support if needed.

“If the move means having to use another maternity service we would also advise the woman to discuss the move with her midwife. Plans can then be put into place to transfer her maternity care to another service so that she gets seamless care between the two maternity services.”