WEDNESDAY, May 3, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Financial stress during pregnancy could increase the risk of having a smaller baby, a new study suggests.
Researchers call this "pregnancy-specific distress." And it "includes concerns about labor and delivery, about relationships changing, about working after the baby arrives, paying for medical care, and whether the baby will be unhealthy," said study senior author Lisa Christian in an Ohio State University news release.
She is an associate professor of psychiatry at the university's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
Previous research has shown that lower-income mothers are more likely to have smaller babies and worse birth outcomes. For this study, the researchers wanted to identify the specific factors responsible for this increased risk.
Their study included 138 pregnant women with an average age of 29. The women were between five and 31 weeks pregnant when they completed questionnaires to assess their mental health and any concerns they had about having a child.
After birth, the babies' medical records were checked to see what impact mom's money concerns and other worries might have had on her baby's weight.
The study found a link between distress in pregnancy and a baby's weight, though it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. In addition, the study authors noted there were only 11 low birth weight babies in the study. They suggested a larger study should be done to confirm their findings.
Still, "there is an opportunity here to look for interventions during pregnancy that could help mitigate the effects of financial strain on birth outcomes," said lead author Amanda Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Ohio State Wexner Medical Center's Stress and Health in Pregnancy Research Program.
Programs to improve access to housing, jobs and support for low-income women are important, but low-cost stress-reduction techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises could also help reduce risk, according to Mitchell.
"It's important for all women who experience pregnancy-related stress to seek out help coping with that stress," she said. "And ob-gyns and other medical providers should also talk about stress during their visits with expecting moms."
The study was published recently in the journal Archives of Women's Mental Health.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offers tips for a healthy pregnancy.