First Year Cleveland

First Year Cleveland

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Biomedical Research Building
11000 Cedar Avenue - 4th Floor Cleveland, OH 44106

Phone 216-368-4837
Home Solutions Reducing Racial Disparities Racial & Maternal Stress

Racial & Maternal Stress

Stress on mothers before and during pregnancy can negatively affect birth outcomes – and racial inequities increase these risks.

In Cuyahoga County, Black babies die at nearly four times the rate of white babies. Widely held biases and beliefs that these deaths are the result of a lack of education and/or economics — generational or situational poverty — have proven to be false. What we've learned is that Black women are often treated differently than white women in our health care systems, and this leads to one of the most troublesome health issues facing Black women today: racism is playing a core role in African American babies dying before their first birthday.  

Before and during pregnancy, mothers may experience what is called maternal stress. Unfortunately, this form of stress can negatively affect both mothers and their babies.

Maternal stress is associated with poor birth outcomes, including an increased number of preterm births, lower birth weights and higher mortality rates. This stress can also result in poor health for infants and can lead to congenital heart defects and developmental delays.

A number of factors play a role in maternal stress, including:

  • Acute stressors that occur during pregnancy, including stress brought on through the effects of structural racism, and its prevalence in the health care industry
  • Chronic stress
  • Strenuous life events, such as financial stress or the death of a loved one
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Social disadvantages and minority statuses also tend to lead to higher levels of stress. This contributes to the racial disparities in rates of preterm birth and, therefore, impacts the health of minority mothers and babies.

At First Year Cleveland, we are working to reduce racial disparities in our health care systems by further determining the roles maternal and racial stress play in infant deaths and negative birth outcomes. Learn more about our work to reduce racial disparities. We are also taking a hard look at structural racism that occurs within health care systems and society and addressing it head-on. (What is structural racism? Learn more here.)

By working in these areas, we hope to reduce maternal stress and, therefore, help expectant mothers in Cuyahoga County to have successful pregnancies and ultimately reduce infant deaths so that every baby can celebrate a first birthday. 


American Psychological Association
March of Dimes

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