Best Life: Researchers study how stress and race can contribute to preterm birth

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 7:37 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - 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 the 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,” said Rosie.

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,” said Carmen Giurgescu, Ph.D., RN, WHNP, FAAN, associate dean of research at UCF College of Nursing.

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 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,” said Giurgescu.

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,” said Rosie.

Rosie works to spread awareness and make resources available for mothers of premature babies through her nonprofit, the gift of life.

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