Preterm Birth Risk: Stress from Racism Increases?


ORLANDO, FLa. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—In an average week in the United States, more than 8,000 babies are born prematurely. It’s a number that has risen every year from 2014 through 2019. Researchers are continuing to study how factors related to race  may  increase likelihood of preterm birth … and even mom’s death.

Reigning Mrs. Puerto Rico World Rosie Moore is on top of the world now. But 12 years ago, her baby, Kaleb, arrived three months early, weighing only one pound. Rosie almost died during the delivery.

“Luckily, both of us survived,” Rosie recalled.

Scientists know that stress can cause preterm birth, but it turns out race might also play a role.

“Other researchers and I found that racism, across lifespan, increases a woman’s risk for adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth, it also increases her risk for morbidity and mortality,” shared Carmen Giurgescu, PhD, RN, WHNP, FAAN, associate dean of research at UCF College of Nursing.

(Read Full Interview)

According to the CDC in 2019 the preterm birth rate among black moms was 50 percent higher than all other women.

The discrepancy is leading Carmen Giurgescu to study how perceived social stressors like racism factor in.

“Women who experience racism or live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to experience stress,” Giurgescu described.

Research shows that chronic stress can increase cortisol levels and inflammation, which increases the risk of preterm birth. CDC and NIH studies report that Native American, Black, and Hispanic women are all almost three times more likely to die from complications than white women.

In the meantime, Rosie’s advice for all moms-to-be?

“Try to keep that stress level down, because having a baby born premature is no joke, it’s dangerous for the baby, and it’s dangerous for mom,” Rosie cautioned.

Rosie Moore works to  spread awareness and make resources available for mothers of premature babies through her nonprofit, The Gift of Life.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Sabrina Broadbent, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4914

BACKGROUND: Preterm birth refers to any baby that is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. In 2019, preterm birth affected 1 of every 10 infants born in the United States. Preterm birth rates decreased from 2007 to 2014, and CDC research shows that this decline is due, in part, to declines in the number of births to teens and young mothers. However, the preterm birth rate rose for the fifth straight year in 2019. A developing baby goes through important growth throughout the final months and weeks of pregnancy including full development of the brain, lungs, and liver. In 2018, preterm birth and low birth weight accounted for about 17% of infant deaths. Infant deaths are defined as death before one year of age. Babies who survive may have breathing problems, feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, vision problems, and hearing problems.


STRESS: Preterm birth represents the most significant problem in maternal-child health. Maternal stress has been associated with adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, infant mortality and low birthweight. Stress results in increases in cortisol, norepinephrine and inflammation which affect all aspects of the fetal environment and have implications for both maternal and infant health. Women who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy have 25-60% higher risk for preterm delivery, even after accounting for the effects of other established risk factors, compared to women with low levels of stress. Stress before and during pregnancy has been linked to low birthweight babies independent of preterm delivery. Increased maternal psychosocial stress is associated with vascular disorders, such as hypertension and preeclampsia, which are major medical reasons for preterm delivery. These conditions are most common for women who are Black, older, or in first-time pregnancies. Increased maternal psychosocial stress is associated with a variety of unhealthy behaviors such as poor diet/nutrition and smoking, which are also risk factors for preterm birth.


NEW RESEARCH: High levels of maternal stress may help explain some of the socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities seen in rates of preterm birth because the experience of social disadvantage and minority status is characterized by higher levels of stress. Racial and ethnic differences in preterm birth rates remain. For example, in 2019, the rate of preterm birth among Black women (14.4%) was about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm birth among white (9.3%) or Hispanic women (10%). Prior research has shown that people who live in what are considered to be disadvantaged neighborhoods with high poverty rates have a higher risk of preterm birth. Rates for preterm births among Black women were about 50 percent higher than those for white women in 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.





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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Carmen Giurgescu, PhD, RN, WHNP, FAAN, associate dean of research at UCF College of Nursing

Read the entire Q&A