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Ohio Research Links Low Birth Weight to Poverty, Stress

Babies born below 5 pounds, 8 ounces are defined as low-birth-weight. (Cesar Rincon/Flickr)
Babies born below 5 pounds, 8 ounces are defined as low-birth-weight. (Cesar Rincon/Flickr)
May 15, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Motherhood is certainly known for being stressful, but the worries of lower-income moms-to-be might contribute to poor birth outcomes.

Researchers from The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center assessed financial strain, depressive symptoms, anxiety and pregnancy-specific stress among 138 pregnant women, and then reviewed the surveys after their babies were born.

Lead author Amanda Mitchell says prior studies have shown a greater risk of low-birth weights among socioeconomically disadvantaged mothers. And these new findings reveal specific pregnancy-related worries also play a factor.

"Taking care of a newborn infant, or what would happen during labor and delivery, or how the infant might change their life – that particular type of distress was kind of the reason that greater financial stress in pregnant women was associated with delivering babies of lower birth weight," she states.

Babies born below 5 pounds, 8 ounces are defined as low-birth-weight, and can suffer from serious health problems and spend their first weeks or months in intensive care. More than 8 percent of babies born in Ohio are underweight at birth.

Mitchell says some pregnant women may find they're able to navigate stress with coping strategies like meditation or breathing exercises. But she advises any woman experiencing stress during their pregnancy to seek help from her OB-GYN or another medical professional.

"The hope is that psychological interventions that address pregnancy-specific concerns would actually help reduce the effects of financial stress on birth weight,” she explains. “So if we can support women in those worries, we might actually help reduce the effect that financial stress has on birth weight."

Mitchell notes researchers are also studying blood biomarkers that might explain biological changes that could be linked to low-birth weight.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH