In 2011, 11.7% of babies in the U.S. were born prematurely. African American women have higher rates of preterm birth compared with non-Hispanic white women. Chronic stressors experienced by African American women, such as living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and experiencing racial discrimination, have been related to higher rates of preterm birth. One potential pathway by which neighborhood disadvantage and racial discrimination can affect preterm birth is by increasing cumulative stress burden for these women. Psychological stress has been linked to preterm birth. The effects of chronic stress on preterm birth may occur through alterations of immune functions, thereby predisposing women to infection/inflammation. This review focuses on stress and inflammation as potential mechanisms for disparities in preterm birth in African American women. Prior research provides some evidence that stress-related immune interactions may contribute to preterm birth. Nurses need to be aware that African American women may experience chronic stressors in addition to the acute stress of having a premature infant.
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