Racism causes physiological as well as psychological harm, and babies of pregnant mothers experience that harm in utero, according to research recently completed in New Zealand.

For the study, anthropologists from Northwestern University and the University of Colorado Denver studied sixty-four pregnant women of different ethnic backgrounds, asking them "whether they had been being harassed, verbally or physically attacked, insulted, ignored or condescended to based on their ethnicity."

Researchers then collected saliva samples from the mothers, measuring levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. Mothers who had been subject to racial discrimination showed higher levels of the stress hormone, even after the study controlled for economic disadvantage. This suggests that discrimination was the primary cause of higher stress.

Studies show that when cortisol levels are high, individuals are more at risk of contracting ailments like heart disease and mental illness.

In the second part of the study, researchers collected saliva samples from babies shortly after they were born, also recording standard measurements like body weight, length, head circumference, and length of gestation.

Mothers with elevated cortisol levels had children with correspondingly high cortisol levels, while stress-free mothers had stress-free babies. The study confirms that the physical and emotional wellbeing of a mother during pregnancy helps determine the health of the baby.

In his Big Think interview, obstetrician/gynecologist Robert Rubino addresses the physical and psychological pressures of having children:

Read more at Science Daily

Photo credit: Shutterstock