New research published in Early Human Development found a higher risk of periviable birth among Latina women whose pregnancy coincided with the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Periviable births are severely premature births occurring between 20 and 25 weeks of pregnancy — a time window during which infant survival is significantly threatened.
The researchers propose that the threat of anti-immigrant policies that characterized Trump’s campaign likely led to increased stress among pregnant Latina women, possibly affecting the timing of birth.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump proposed a slew of anti-immigration policies that threatened the foreign-born population in America. Unsurprisingly, multiple studies have uncovered increased fear and anxiety among the Latino population in the U.S. during this time.
As study authors Alison Gemmill and her team report, such sociopolitical stressors have been suggested to influence maternal health and may even affect the timing of birth. Their study set out to examine whether there might be a higher incidence of periviable births among Latina women who were pregnant during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The researchers obtained national data pertaining to all the live births conceived in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016. They then organized the births into 96 monthly conception cohorts. Researchers next compared the rate of periviable birth among Latina women to the rate of periviable birth among non-Latina white women. By using a statistical analysis called time-series methods, Gemmill and colleagues examined whether Latina women with conception cohorts from April to November 2016 — those exposed to the election — showed higher-than-expected incidences of periviable births.
The analysis revealed that the risk of periviable birth was elevated among the eight cohorts conceived by Latina women between April 2016 and November 2016. As the researchers explain, while a risk ratio of 1 would designate equal rates of periviable births among Latina and non-Latina white women, risk ratios above 1 indicate an increased rate among Latina women. “Increases in the ratios ranged from 0.07 above an expected of 1.61 for the cohort conceived in June, to 0.39 above an expected of 1.27 for the cohort conceived in April,” the authors report.
In their analysis, the researchers were able to hone in on risk ratios associated with the election campaign, rather than the aftermath of the inauguration. Accordingly, their results suggest that the presidential election itself created enough stress and anxiety to accelerate the timing of birth among pregnant Latina women. “This circumstance indicates that the anticipation of imminent threats to security—even in advance of any legislative action—may affect the biology of pregnant women,” the authors point out.
The researchers say their findings fall in line with the idea that the anti-immigrant sentiments characteristic of the 2016 Trump campaign triggered the system responsible for the timing of childbirth. “The results extend previous findings of an upward shift in preterm birth among Latina women,” the authors say, “by showing an increase in preterm births with the highest likelihood of infant mortality and early life morbidity . . . given the high risk of neonatal death among these gestations, we would expect that more than half of the excess periviable births that we identified would have likely died shortly following birth.”
Gemmill and colleagues offer several theories for how and why stress is linked to preterm birth. One theory posits that the stress response can lead to hormonal changes that disrupt developmental mechanisms and speed up the “pregnancy clock”. Another possibility suggests an evolutionary mechanism that spontaneously aborts pregnancies when the offspring would be unlikely to thrive in the surrounding environment. “These late spontaneous abortions increase among stressed women because natural selection would have conserved mutations that suppressed reproduction in environments that threaten maternal investment in frail infants,” the researchers explain.
The authors conclude that their findings shed light on the importance of sociopolitical contexts when it comes to the health of mothers and children. “In particular,” the researchers emphasize, “xenophobic and racist rhetoric, coupled with credible threats of xenophobic and racist policies, may have a deleterious impact on the health of marginalized groups, like pregnant Latina women.” The researchers recommend that clinics and health providers should turn their attention to stress mitigation programs when serving populations affected by this type of sociopolitical stress.
The study, “The 2016 presidential election and periviable births among Latina women”, was authored by Alison Gemmill, Ralph Catalano, Héctor Alcalá, Deborah Karasek, Joan A. Casey, and Tim A. Bruckner.