Stress during pregnancy puts mothers' and their babies' health at risk, previous research has shown. Now, a University of Missouri study indicates low-income pregnant women in rural areas experience high levels of stress yet lack appropriate means to manage their emotional and physical well-being. Health providers should serve as facilitators and link rural women with resources.
"Many people think of rural life as being idyllic and peaceful, but, in truth, there are a lot of health disparities for residents of rural communities," said Tina Bloom, assistant professor of nursing and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar at MU's Sinclair School of Nursing. "Chronic, long-term stress is hard on pregnant women's health and on their babies' health. Stress is associated with increased risks for adverse health outcomes, such as low birth weights or pre-term deliveries, and those outcomes can kill babies."
During interviews with nearly 25 pregnant women from rural communities in Missouri, Bloom and her colleagues learned financial problems plagued the women. Financial stress was exacerbated by the women's lack of employment, reliable transportation and affordable housing. In addition, the women said small-town gossip, the isolation of their rural communities and the interdependence of their lives with their extended family members also increased their stress levels.
"To the women I talked with, getting jobs was their ultimate solution," Bloom said. "Self-reliance is a value in rural populations, and I think that's what these women were expressing-that their circumstances were difficult and stressful, but if they had the ability to support themselves financially, they would be able to lift their families out of poverty."
Mental illness also affected many of the women, with nearly two out of three showing symptoms of major depression and one in four experiencing moderate to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of the women had significant violent experiences in their lifetimes, and one in five was in an abusive relationship at the time of the interviews.