Study Links Discrimination Against Pregnant Women to Health Problems in Newborns

A new study examining the effects of discrimination on a group of pregnant women and girls illustrates the critical importance of protecting people’s civil rights during pregnancy. The study, which examined discrimination based on pregnancy and race, found a greater incidence of low birth weight in infants born to people who reported that they experienced distress due to discrimination. While the study did not look specifically at discrimination in an employment context, its findings suggest that fighting against pregnancy discrimination is essential not only to protecting the health of mothers and newborns, but to maintaining a healthy workforce. The effects of pregnancy discrimination, in the workplace and elsewhere, can extend far beyond the financial losses experienced by an employee.

The study, published in the online edition of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine on August 28, 2012, focused primarily on the impact of discrimination on “young, urban women of color.” Researchers surveyed 420 women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one who received treatment at fourteen hospitals and health centers in New York City. According to the researchers, the group was sixty-two percent Latina and thirty-eight percent Black. They interviewed the women on at least four separate occasions: during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, six months after giving birth, and twelve months after giving birth. The women reported their experiences with discrimination, based on race, pregnancy, and other factors. They also reported its impact in terms of pregnancy symptoms, pregnancy distress, and depressive or emotional symptoms. The researchers’ findings confirmed what they say many have known for some time: that discrimination during pregnancy can have a devastating impact on the health of the mother and the newborn.

Low birth weight, defined as less than five pounds, eight ounces, is associated with an array of health problems, including stunted growth and a higher likelihood of cognitive impairment and serious chronic diseases. The rate of low birth weight in 2009 was reportedly between five and six percent for infants born to White or Latina women, and more than eleven percent for infants born to Black women. The study found that the women who reported experiencing discrimination and resulting depressive symptoms were far more likely to deliver a low birth weight infant. The types of discrimination described by the women involved race as much as pregnancy, showing how the two are often inextricably connected. The women described name-calling and receiving poorer levels of service and respect. Other studies have similarly shown that pregnant women diagnosed with clinical depression have a greater likelihood of premature birth and low birth weight.

New York City prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, gender, and other factors. Discrimination based on pregnancy is considered a form of gender discrimination. Laws at the city, state, and federal level provide employees with tools to fight back against discrimination by an employer, but discrimination takes an immense toll, physically and emotionally, on its victims. At Phillips & Associates, we work to safeguard the rights of employees and job seekers in the New York City area who have experienced pregnancy discrimination and other forms of employment discrimination in violation of federal, state, and local laws. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New York Judge Allows Pregnancy Discrimination Claim Against Victoria’s Secret to Proceed, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 17, 2012
Pregnant CEO Prompts Discussion About Workplace Discrimination, “Having It All,” New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 26, 2012
EEOC Settles Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Against New York-Based Clothing Retailer, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 5, 2012

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