Women who feel positive about themselves, their futures, and their ability to control important aspects of their lives are likely to bear healthy-weight infants, even under difficult circumstances, a new study reports. Women with these positive psychological resources often experience lower stress, a condition frequently linked with full-term births.
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles studied the importance of a pregnant woman's stress levels and psychological traits in conjunction with her income, ethnicity, and other factors.
"One important contribution of our study was to add to the sparse literature on the manner in which psychological resources in the form of self-relevant beliefs affect maternal and fetal health," said Christine Killingsworth Rini, author of the study. "A woman's ability to adapt to the changes and challenges of pregnancy is important to the outcome of the pregnancy, and is affected by her outlook and the level of stress she experiences."
Collaborators included Christine Dunkel-Schetter, PhD, head of the project at UCLA, and Curt Sandman, PhD, principal investigator of the project, which was based in the University of California, Irvine.
The team studied 230 pregnant women in an effort to shed light on the enduring problem of adverse birth outcomes. Of this country's live births, 11 percent occur prematurely (before 37 weeks), and 7 percent of the babies are of low birth weight (2,500 grams or less). These are the major causes of death for newborns and infants. The researchers report their findings in the current issue of Health Psychology.
Participants, including 120 Hispanics and 110 whites, were recruited during prenatal visits to a southern California medical facility. Half the women reported annual household incomes of $20,000 or less. Their average age was 26 years. Eighty-two percent of the Hispanics had been born outside the United States.