Maternal stress, social support, and risk of neural tube defects among Mexican Americans

Lucina Suarez, Kathryn Cardarelli, Kate Hendricks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Background: Studies suggest that maternal psychologic stress can increase the risk of congenital malformations, including neural tube defects (NTDs). We examined whether maternal stress and lack of social support contribute to NTD risk in a population living along the Texas-Mexico border. Methods: Case mothers (N = 184) were Mexican-American women with NTD-affected pregnancies who delivered during 1995 to 2000 in one of the 14 Texas counties bordering on Mexico. Control mothers (N = 225) were randomly selected from Mexican-American women residing in the same area and delivering normal live births. We measured maternal stress by tallying the number of job changes, residential moves, and major injuries occurring during the year before conception. Social support was measured using social integration and perceived emotional support scales. Results: Mothers who experienced one or more stressful life events during the year before conception had increased risks for NTDs (odds ratio [OR] = 2.9; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.8-4.7) compared with mothers experiencing no events. Mothers who scored low on emotional support had an elevated risk compared with those who scored high (OR = 4.6; CI = 2.2-9.7). Social support measures, such as network size and satisfaction, group interactions, and church attendance, were unrelated to NTD risk. The estimated effects were not modified or confounded by age, education, country of birth, income, obesity, vitamin supplements, dietary folate, cigarette smoking, or alcohol consumption. Conclusion: In this Mexican-American population, the occurrence of stressful life events was associated with NTD risk. These findings suggest that stress may exacerbate risk in populations with poor nutritional status and meager economic resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-616
Number of pages5
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Case-control studies
  • Life change events
  • Mexican Americans
  • Neural tube defects
  • Social support
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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