Pre-pregnancy depression could play a role in why black women are twice as likely to give birth prematurely as compared with white women, suggests a new study published online in the Journal of Women’s Health and reported on by Medline Plus.

Researchers looked at birth-rate data collected from a six-year period from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Youth Adults Study. They found that of the 55 women who gave birth between 1990 and 1996 in the larger study, 18.1 percent of black women gave birth to preemies compared with only 8.5 percent of white women. (Premature birth is any birth occurring before 37 weeks of gestation; normal births range from 38 to 42 weeks.)

While researchers aren’t sure of the reasons for the disparities, they know that women who were depressed before becoming pregnant had an increased risk of giving birth prematurely.

According to Medline Plus, Amelia Gavin, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington in Seattle, believes that a higher pre-term birth rate among black women may be the result of accelerated declines in health due to socioeconomic or other factors.

“What some people experience by being black takes a toll on the physiological system. Over time, wear and tear that occurs across neural, neuroendocrine and immune systems as a result of chronic exposure to stressors lead to health disparities for blacks,” Gavin said. “Some of this may manifest itself in premature birth and low birth weight.”

Read RH’s “Relax, Relate, Release” for tips to help you battle the blues and give birth to a healthy baby.