Fighting stress during pregnancy poses health risks to the pregnant woman and fetus, according to clinical research. New research suggests low-income rural areas face an even deeper problem when it comes to stress and prenatal care. Researchers suggest women pregnant in low-income rural areas are more likely to have higher levels of stress but less likely to have the care they need to deal with the stress in a healthy way. Direct health care providers need to work with patients to ensure proper mental and physical needs are being met.

The visual concept of rural-US life is one of lazy days and few cares, but the reality of living in a low-income rural area is far different from these Hollywood images. In interviews with pregnant women living in rural Missouri, finances, emotional stress and small-town gossip increased stress levels dramatically. The interviews were conducted with 25 women.

The most stressful situations in low-income rural life, according to the interviews, were money and independence. Many women found it difficult or impossible to find work so they relied on family members for support. Lacking independence, they felt isolated and trapped. The primary goal for most women was to find a job and establish a more independent life, but lack of transportation and the lax job market in small-town rural areas made reaching these goals nearly impossible. Lacking choice and support, the pregnant women felt extremely high levels of stress. Stress during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, low birth weight and other adverse health problems. Some complications of high-level stress can increase the risk of fetal mortality.

Researchers suggest doctors use prenatal visits to speak with pregnant women about life, finances, and other stress factors. Doctors should also have resource information available to pass along to patients in need. Resources could include low-income or no-income housing support, emotional counseling, and financial support.

The study was completed in a small rural area. Researchers note the study population, primarily Caucasian, may not represent all rural populations. Additional researcher on a larger scale may be needed to include additional ethnicities and gather a more universal look at stress factors in low-income rural settings.

Source: Tina L. Bloom, Ph.D., MPH, RN Linda F. C. Bullock, Ph.D., RN, FAAN Lindsay Parsons, MPH. Rural Pregnant Women's Stressors and Priorities for Stress Reduction. December 2012, Vol. 33, No. 12 , Pages 813-819 (doi:10.3109/01612840.2012.712087).