Psychophysiology and Pregnancy
There is considerable evidence linking psychosocial stress (e.g., stressful life events, anxiety, emotional distress, daily hassles) to a variety of pregnancy-related outcomes, including lower birthweight and shorter length of gestation (see reviews by Dunkel-Schetter, Gurung, Lobel, & Wadhwa, 2001; Stanton, Lobel, Sears, & DeLuca, 2002). It is hypothesized that stress contributes to poor pregnancy outcomes by causing wear and tear on physiologic systems, leading to dysregulation of the body’s stress response systems (McEwen & Stellar, 1993). However, it is still not clear how many physiologic systems are involved with linking stress to pregnancy outcome, what physiologic dysregulation looks like, or how these stress-physiology links may contribute to disparities in pregnancy outcomes. For example, African-American women give birth preterm and to low birthweight infants twice as often as non-Hispanic White and Latina women, and researchers have been unable to fully account for this difference.
Research at the Mind, Body & Baby Lab uses laboratory experimental methods and prospective research designs to examine relationships between stress, physiology, and pregnancy outcomes with a goal of better understanding how these are associated. Our lab has aimed to advance our understanding of ethnic disparities in pregnancy outcomes by considering ethnic differences in how stress and physiology interact during pregnancy (e.g., Hilmert et al., in submission).
Strahm, A.M., Bagne, A., & Rued, H., Larson, K.J., Roemmich, J.N., & Hilmert, C.J. (2020). Prenatal traumatic stress and offspring hair cortisol concentration: A nine year follow up to the Red River Flood Pregnancy Study. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 113, 104579.
Hilmert, C. J., Kvasnicka-Gates, L.R.,* Teoh, Ai Ni,* Bresin, K.,* & Fiebiger, S. (2016). Major flood related strains and pregnancy outcomes. Health Psychology, PDF
Hilmert, C. J., Dominguez, T. P., Schetter, C. D., Srinivas, S. K., Glynn, L. M., Hobel, C. J., & Sandman, C. A. (2014). Lifetime racism and blood pressure changes during pregnancy: Implications for fetal growth. Health Psychology, 33(1), 43-51. doi: 10.1037/a0031160
Abdou, C. M., Dunkel Schetter, C., Campos, B., Hilmert, C. J., Dominguez, T. P., Hobel, C. J., Glynn, L., M., & Sandman, C. A. (2010). Communalism predicts maternal affect, stress, and physiology better than ethnicity and SES. Journal of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 16(3), 395-403.
Hilmert, C. J., Dunkel Schetter, C., Parker Dominguez, T., Abdou, C., Hobel, C., Glynn, L., & Sandman, C. (2008). Blood pressure and stress during pregnancy: Racial differences and associations with birthweight. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70, 57-64.