Project location: Interior Alaska
This pilot project will explore the impacts of prenatal maternal stress and other physical and mental health factors in pregnant Alaskan women.
The purpose of this research is to further understand the determinants of variation in physical and mental health during pregnancy and to capture relevant biomarkers in order to have a basis for targeting Alaskan women who are at high risk for negative health outcomes for themselves and their children.
In preventive health research, focus on prenatal health factors is of great value considering the well-established impacts of maternal behaviors and other risk factors on human development. Examining psychoneuroimmunological biomarkers associated with maternal stress and psychological adjustment during pregnancy is especially worthy of consideration given the known negative effects of prenatal maternal stress, anxiety, and depression on the physical and psychological health of mother and child. However, prenatal preventive health efforts have typically focused on health behaviors such as substance and tobacco use, nutrition, and medical care; less research has specifically examined the inclusion of prenatal maternal stress and psychological health in prevention efforts. Given the disproportionate rates of prenatal stress and postpartum depression in Alaska Native women, it is especially important to explore maternal health variables in these communities in order to aid prevention efforts by identifying culture-specific factors important for the development of prenatal health programs. Specific aims are 1) to explore biological pathways and psychosociocultural influence behind the effects of prenatal stress through examining the influences of mothers' prenatal stress, psychological adjustment, and related health variables on postnatal health outcomes, 2) to develop an understanding of unique and culture-specific factors related to prenatal health in Alaskan communities, and 3) to begin to develop a basis for enhancing prenatal preventive healthcare in rural and Alaska Native communities with a focus on addressing stress, mental health, and psychological adjustment during pregnancy, and support for postpartum mother-infant behavioral and relational health.