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Financial Stress Hurts Babies Before They’re Born

In a new study, financially-strapped moms who experienced more pregnancy-related stress gave birth to smaller, more medically vulnerable babies.

flickr / Barta IV

Raising a kid costs a staggering, how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-do-this-amount of money that makes even the most comfortable parents worry about all the expenditures to come. Well, the unforeseen financial stressors can adversely affect prenatal health. Researchers from Ohio State University University recently found that financially strapped mothers who experienced more pregnancy-related stress gave birth to smaller, more medically vulnerable babies.

The study, published this week in Archives of Women’s Mental Health, looked at 138 pregnant women between five and 31 weeks pregnant, with the average age of 29. Data came from a flu vaccine effectiveness study that ran from 2013 to 2015, which assessed women’s financial strain, depressive symptoms, pregnancy-specific distress, perceived stress, and general anxiety through a series of questionnaires. After participants gave birth, researchers cross-referenced birth weights obtained from medical records with results from the surveys.

What researchers already knew from more than a decade of research was that socioeconomically disadvantaged pregnant women were more likely to have worse birth outcomes. However, what they were able to isolate through their statistical model researchers was what factors influence this. Researchers found that the leading driver of low birth weights was pregnancy-specific stress. “This includes concerns about labor and delivery, about relationships changing, about working after the baby arrives, paying for medical care, and whether the baby will be unhealthy,” Lisa Christian, associate professor of psychiatry and the study’s lead author, said in a release.

It’s important to note that while the sample size consisted 138 mothers-to-be, the number of babies born underweight was a significantly smaller cohort — 11 infants. And while the findings echo past studies, they do more than just pile on to them. Low birth weights can lead to a variety of health problems, including stints in intensive care, and devising solutions beyond “try not to be poor” is crucial. By zeroing in on more specific causes, experts can start suggesting interventions such as improved food, housing, and medical support for economically disadvantaged mothers … and their buns, long before they get out of the oven.