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New mum' stress 'can lead to health risks'

STRESSED OUT: Research has found that race and class are big factors in determining how serious health issues can be post-partum

AFRICAN AMERICAN women undergo more physical “wear- and-tear” during the first year after giving birth than Latina and white women, a consequence that may have long-lasting health effects, according to a US study.

The research, which was published in the American Journal of Perinatology,
involved an ethnically diverse group of more than 2,400 low- income women who were interviewed and evaluated at ve different clini- cal sites in the United States.

In addition to an insight into health risks facing new mothers, researchers found evidence that women who breastfeed their babies may receive some protection from the health damage caused by physical stress of pregnancy and giving birth.

Sharon Landesman Ramey, a professor and distinguished research scholar at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and an author of the paper said: “All mothers are affected by stress, but low-income women and especially African American and Hispanic women have more adverse health-risk profiles during their children’s first years of life.”

She continued: “Our study was designed to look for biomarkers that are sensitive to psychological and physical stressors, and in turn determine whether those stressors contribute to poor outcomes for mothers and children.”

Working groups of clinicians, guided by scientists and community members, recorded blood pressures, heart rates, cholesterol profiles, body mass indexes, waist-hip ratios, and other biomarkers in women six months and one year after they had given birth.

In addition, women were assessed before they gave birth, some even before they became pregnant. The readings were used to create a composite measurement of “allostatic load”, which represents the cumulative physical and psychological strain on their bodies after delivery.

More than one half of the women in the study were classified as overweight or obese prior to becoming pregnant. “We thoroughly looked at the effects of stress alongside levels of poverty and minority status to understand poor health outcomes for mums and children,” said Madeleine Shalowitz, a research professor of pediatrics at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, programme director of outcomes research at North-Shore University Health System Research Institute, and a co-investigator in the study.

“Filling this knowledge gap could lead to health interventions to lower the
risk of chronic disease for mothers, many of whom are planning to have more children.”

During pregnancy, dramatic changes occur in a woman’s immune and cardiovascular systems to support the foetus.

EXTRAORDINARY

In healthy women, maternal physiology gradually returns to normal within a year after delivery, but a persistently elevated allostatic load increases a woman’s risk for chronic diseases across a lifetime.

The researchers said the results of the study are important for improving health and also to address interventions for disadvantaged groups. As for why breastfeeding was shown to provide some health benefits 12 months postpartum, the study said it could be a cumulative effect re ecting longer durations of breastfeeding compounded by a better socioeconomic status for women who can afford to breastfeed for longer periods.

Landesman Ramey added: “This study was extraordinary because it included community members as full partners at all of the clinical sites, working alongside health-care providers and scientists to determine how stress is affecting mothers and the next generation of babies.”

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