Toxic Stress in Pregnancy

Toxic Stress in Pregnancy: We all experience stress. Stress is a part of life and is usually tolerable. A difficult day at work or a long wait in rush-hour traffic might be stressful, but we typically possess the coping skills necessary to move on from these events. When the stressor is temporary, and we have mechanisms and relationships to help us cope, our body can move on from the stress.

The type of stress that is concerning due to its detrimental health effects, is called Toxic Stress. Toxic stress is the cumulative effect of facing ongoing adversity. Toxic stress especially affects marginalized groups including women and people of color.

Each time our bodies sense stress, our heart rate and blood pressure increase. The stress hormone, Cortisol, is released. With toxic stress, this biological process is prolonged or occurs too frequently, increasing the risk for development of stress-related diseases.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s Surgeon General, is using her platform to call attention to toxic stress. Her Ted Talk discusses the lasting health effects that Adverse Childhood Experiences can have.

As a Black female doctor herself, Harris stresses the importance of medical providers treating marginalized groups with cultural competence. Female patients of minority groups are especially likely to have their concerns dismissed or ignored due to ongoing racist biases at the institutional level.

This results in women of color having to fight for to have their voices heard. For some women, each time they set foot in the doctor’s office, it is a battle to be heard and taken seriously. This constant battle contributes to unnecessary toxic stress over the lifetime.

When a mom experiences toxic stress before or during pregnancy, we know her baby can be negatively affected too. Preconception and prenatal toxic stress have been associated with preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental delays during childhood.

Midwifery care is honoring and aligned with removal of toxic stress. Women of color desire Birth Centers, such as Best Start Birth Center, because we have a proven track record of honoring the individual and providing parity with regard to race and socioeconomic status. Birth Centers don’t reinforce an individuals need to defend themselves (which is toxic) but rather support them in having a joyful honoring birth experience. Birth Centers value a woman’s autonomy and individuality.

Written by guest writer, Mikaela Doss