Smoking, poor nutrition and even working late have been cited among the top reasons why babies might be born with low birth weight, but a team of researchers from Yale say healthcare isn't the only cause.
According to a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Valerie Earnshaw and her colleagues at Yale found that racism against the more than 1,000 black and Latina girls they surveyed resulted in lower birth weight babies as well.
The contributing factor, they say, was the depression that resulted from the mothers-to-be's experience with discrimination, including being treated with less respect than other people, receiving poorer service or being called names.
Earnshaw and her colleagues interviewed 420, 14- to 21-year-old black and Latina women at 14 community health centers and hospitals in New York, during the second and third trimesters of their pregnancies, and at six and 12 months after their babies had been born, according to a news release. The team also measured the women's reported experiences of discrimination, depressive symptoms, pregnancy distress and pregnancy symptoms.
Their finding is one that researchers have acknowledged for years.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Washington, The Ohio State University, and the University of Pittsburgh concluded that pregnant women are at greater risk of delivering prematurely or giving birth to infants with low birth weight if they are diagnosed with clinical depression.
And while the women in Earnshaw's study reported relatively low levels of discrimination, the impact of discrimination was the same across the board.
According to the CDC, a birth weight of less than 5.5 pounds is considered low and can result in increased risk of infection, delayed motor skills and learning disabilities.