Impact of poverty and stress on infants

This is another article that addresses the importance of caring for women before birth as a way of serving our community for a long time after.

New York Times: At Risk From the Womb

Here’s a quote:

Perhaps the most striking finding is that a stressful uterine environment may be a mechanism that allows poverty to replicate itself generation after generation. Pregnant women in low-income areas tend to be more exposed to anxiety, depression, chemicals and toxins from car exhaust to pesticides, and they’re more likely to drink or smoke and less likely to take vitamin supplements, eat healthy food and get meticulous pre-natal care.

The result is children who start life at a disadvantage — for kids facing stresses before birth appear to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives. If that’s true, then even early childhood education may be a bit late as a way to break the cycles of poverty.

“Given the odds stacked against poor women and their fetuses, the most effective antipoverty program might be one that starts before birth,” writes Annie Murphy Paul in a terrific and important new book called “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.”

When you consider the far-reaching effects of stress during the prenatal time listed in this article – impacting educational level, heart disease, mental illness, and obesity among others, it makes sense to ensure that women feel nurtured and supported. It’s not just that we want pregnant women to “feel good” – it turns out to be good for those babies growing and developing.

The article talks about the impact of poverty on stress. People may have ideas about what poverty means – and the image might not be what you imagine. I was shocked to learn that a living income (defined as “the minimum income that a family needs to provide the basic necessities of life”) for two working adults and two children in King and Snohomish County was $71,374 in 2008! It’s easy to see how families can not have a lot left over even above that, and many, many jobs don’t make nearly that amount – over three quarters of jobs (76%) in King County don’t make enough for a living wage for a single wage earner with a toddler and a school age child. Yes, 76%! Think of how many dual-income working couples with kids are one layoff away from facing those statistics. The living wage for two adults with a single worker and two children (not needing childcare etc) is close to $50,000 annually. The clients that Open Arms serves are at 200% of poverty level or below – which in Seattle is $40,000 per year. Read the Communities Count A Report on the Strength of King County’s Communities which is where I got these figures – it’ll shock you.  Note: That report is delivered every three years, but they update it due to the rapidly changing economic conditions. You can read the latest figures and updates on the Communities Count website.

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