Financial Stress

Financial Stress could harm unborn children

Being under financial stress is bad enough for adults, but there’s new evidence to suggest money worries could harm us before we are even born.

Research done by Amanda Mitchell and Lisa Christian from The Ohio State University, which was published in the Archives of Womens Mental Health journal in December 2016, has found a correlation between “financial strain” and low birth weights in new born babies.

Being born under-weight has been associated with disease in later life including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Mitchell and Christian found: “pregnancy-specific distress and depressive symptoms, but not perceived stress or general anxiety, serve as mediators in the relationship between financial strain and birth weight in pregnant women.” In other words, financial stress increases depressive symptoms and pregnancy-specific distress (but not general anxiety) which in turn, is associated with lower birth weight.

It was already known that financial strain has “significant mental and physical health effects” and “contributes to adverse health outcomes in women, such as increased oxidative stress levels, greater malnutrition risk, lower self-rated health, and recurrent coronary events”. It was also known that financial strain can lead to depression in women before and after the birth of a child.

But this research is believed to be the first time the link between money stress and birth weight has been proven.

The study followed the progress of 138 women in Ohio throughout their pregnancy. Eighty-five per cent of respondents were married or in a relationship, 59 per cent had complete a college (or university) degree or higher and 67 per cent were employed. Half earned at least $50,000 a year and while the biggest group earned less than $15,000 a year, the next biggest made over $100,000 a year.

Women who used illicit drugs, consumed more than two drinks a week, had foetal abnormalities or more than one foetus or were extremely obese were excluded.

It established the women’s levels financial strain from three questions: “How difficult is it for you to live on your total household income right now?”; “In the next two months, how likely is it that you and your family will experience actual hardships, such as inadequate housing, food, or medical attention?” and “How likely is it that you and your family will have to reduce your standard of living to the bare necessities in life?”

Mitchell and Christian suggested further research was needed to see how measures used to reduce “pregnancy-specific distress” could change the relationship between financial strain and low birth weights.

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