Incarceration as a unique social stressor during pregnancy: Implications for maternal and newborn health

Alexander Testa, Dylan B. Jackson, Michael G. Vaughn, Jennifer K. Bello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Exposure to incarceration during pregnancy is a stressful life event that poses risk for both maternal and newborn health. Objective: We conducted a pooled, cross-sectional analysis of the link between incarceration exposure of mothers during pregnancy – personally or vicariously through a romantic partner - and maternal and newborn health using data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System from years 2012–2015. Method: We applied a novel approach that compares mothers who were exposed to incarceration to the strategic comparison group of mothers who were not exposed to incarceration, but experienced varying numbers of stressors. Results: The initial findings indicated that respondents exposed to incarceration exhibited reductions in maternal and newborn health relative to respondents not exposed to incarceration. However, these differences were substantially attenuated when comparing the incarceration-exposed group to a more comparable stressor-exposed reference group. Conclusions: While incarceration exposure has adverse consequences for health outcomes of mothers and newborns, incarceration exposure may not carry unique implications for maternal and newborn wellbeing beyond the clustering of other stressful life events. Policies targeting incarceration exposure as a means of promoting health must also provide adequate attention to co-occurring stressors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112777
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Feb

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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