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Effect of active-duty military service on neonatal birth outcomes: a systematic review
  1. Kirsten A L Morris and
  2. M McKee
  1. London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kirsten A L Morris, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK; kirsten.morris{at}


Introduction Increasing numbers of women serve in the armed forces in countries worldwide. Stress experienced during pregnancy is associated with adverse birth outcomes including preterm delivery (PTD) and low birth weight (LBW). Several characteristics of military employment and lifestyle can increase stress acting on active-duty servicewomen (ADSW) and hence may increase the risk of adverse neonatal outcomes. This paper reviews the prevalence of PTD, preterm labour (PTL), LBW and stillbirth in babies born to ADSW in the armed forces.

Methods This systematic review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses protocol. Medline, EMBASE, Web of Science, Global Health and CINAHL Plus databases were searched from inception to July 2021 (November 2023, EMBASE) using subject heading and keyword searches for English language journal articles on babies born to ADSW in any military branch and any country. The Joanna Briggs Institute prevalence critical appraisal tool assessed risk of bias in included papers. Studies were paired with a comparator non-active-duty population to generate a prevalence ratio as the effect measure. A narrative synthesis was conducted.

Results 21 observational studies fulfilled the eligibility criteria. They were all conducted in the US military, involved a total of 650 628 participants, and were published between 1979 and 2023. Their results indicate increased LBW in ADSW compared with non-service women. There was insufficient evidence to conclude or rule out whether ADSW have increased rates of PTD or PTL.

Conclusions ADSW may be at increased risk of having an LBW baby. However, caution is needed if seeking to generalise the findings beyond the US context. This review highlights a growing need for female-specific research in other armed forces and, specifically, into reproductive health. Such research is necessary to inform military maternity pathways and policies in ways that safeguard mothers and their babies while enhancing military readiness.


Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Contributors KALM and MM designed the systematic review methodology. KALM conducted the review and produced the manuscript. MM provided mentorship and revised the final manuscript.

    KALM is responsible for the overall content as guarantor and accepts full responsibility for the finished work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.