Explaining racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes: Unique sources of stress for Black American women

  • Rosenthal L
  • Lobel M
  • 29

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Abstract

The infant mortality rate for Black Americans in the US is more than twice the rate for White Americans, with similar racial disparities existing in rates of low birthweight and preterm delivery. Survivors of these adverse birth outcomes have poorer development and health in infancy, childhood, and adulthood. Increasingly, evidence suggests that maternal stress is an important risk factor for adverse birth outcomes. We offer a novel perspective on racial disparities in birth outcomes suggesting that Black American women are subject to unique sources of stress throughout their lives and particularly during pregnancy based on their multiple identities as women, Black, and pregnant. We draw on interdisciplinary work to examine three unique sources of stress for Black American women that elevate their risk for adverse birth outcomes: 1) abuses of Black American women by the medical system and issues of power in obstetrics that disadvantage Black American women; 2) contradictory societal pressures exerted on Black American women about whether they should have children; and 3) historical and contemporary stereotypes about Black American women related to sexuality and motherhood. We discuss implications of this analysis, including applications to research and intervention. Developing a better understanding of the experience of Black American women during pregnancy and throughout their lives offers insight into ways to reduce racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes and their lifelong consequences.

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Authors

  • Lisa Rosenthal

  • Marci Lobel

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