By Anav Silverman

Tazpit News Agency

Researchers from Ben Gurion University recently shared a very important study linking the rocket attacks from Gaza to the increased number of miscarriages in S’derot during 2004—2008. 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 S’derot and spontaneous abortions (more commonly known as miscarriages) and prenatal maternal stress.

The authors explain in the study that the Israeli southern town of S’derot 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 S’derot, with 500 of them during 2008 alone. Out of the 1,132 women who took part in the study from S’derot, 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 S’derot.

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 S’derot 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 S’derot for several reasons. The city’s socioeconomic and demographic features were very similar to S’derot, 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 2.937 women, 1,132 from S’derot and 1,805 from Kiryat Gat. It was found that women in S’derot 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% verses 4.7%). The perceived stress level among S’derot 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.

Anav Silverman lived for two years in the city of S’derot working as an international media liaison and frontline reporter in 2007—2009. v


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