Researchers, scientists, and doctors have established a solid link between depression and lower birth weight. Depression can cause a number of symptoms that directly affect pregnancy outcome, including loss of sleep, diminished appetite and increased risk of suicide. A new study by researchers at Yale University claims discrimination can also cause low birth weight; however, is the connection a new revelation or just another accessory cause of depression?

According to Valerie Earnshaw and team members at Yale, discrimination may be a major cause of lower birth weight among women of color. Women in the study received health care from one of 14 different community hospitals and health care centers throughout New York. Women were interviewed during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters and again twice after their infants were born. Women who reported being discriminated against on a regular basis were more apt to give birth to lower birth weight babies – thus the connection raised by the team, but the team also noted depression resulting from the discrimination as being a possible cause.

The women, who reported discrimination, typically reported increased depression. Depression is clinically proven to have negative outcomes on pregnancy, but not all women respond to discrimination in the same way – so a true connection cannot be made. Lower birth weight could result from discrimination, but only if women respond to the discrimination by feeling depressed, based on the study literature. There is no mention of how discrimination affects pregnancy outcome for women who do not feel depressed as a result of discrimination.

Study authors claim reducing discrimination of “urban youth of color” could potentially impact the health and lifespan of infants born to this sector of the population, but what about women who face discrimination for religious or sexual preferences? Discrimination against people of color, while part of our country’s history, is not the only type of discrimination. While there is undoubtedly a connection between discrimination of women of color, depression and lower birth weight outcomes as a result of the depression; it appears that depression is the actual cause.

Source: Valerie Earnshaw; et al. Annals Behavioral Medicine. August 30, 2012.