In a study of white and African American women, both pregnant and non-pregnant, Christian's team found that African American women showed stronger inflammatory response to acute psychological stress.
"Statistically, African-Americans have a higher incidence of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. If women are comparing themselves to others in their community who have serious illnesses, then they may think that they are doing pretty good in comparison," said Christian. "Understanding this point of view gives clinicians opportunities to probe a little more during prenatal visits."
Christian notes that more research is needed to better understand the complex relationship between such diverse factors like inflammation, race and pregnancy, but says that her research has a very basic message about maternal mental health that applies to all women.
"Women who are very conscientious about their health behaviors, such as taking prenatal vitamins and avoiding alcohol, may not take the same time to focus on their emotional well-being," said Christian.
"I would tell an expecting mother to work with her doctors to proactively address life stressors. That way she can not only enjoy her pregnancy and prepare for the new baby, but she may ultimately improve her pregnancy outcomes and help her developing baby."