Module 2 Health & Research Findings

Research that relates to Maternal Health and Stress

We would like to share some important research that relates to maternal health and stress:

In 2009, the first Australian female scientist was awarded a Nobel Prize. Tasmanian Professor Elizabeth Blackburn identified the parts of our cells that are responsible for aging. These tiny parts of cells are called telomeres. As Telomeres fray at each end, described by Professor Blackburn as looking similar to shoe laces, the cell loses the ability to regenerate and therefore ages. To establish whether there were differences in the length of telomeres between different people based on self- reported stress, Professor Blackburn and her colleagues did an interesting experiment. They investigated the state of telomeres in the cells of mothers of a child with a disability who reported very high stress levels on an everyday basis. They compared their findings to the state of telomeres in the cells of mothers who did not report high stress levels.

The scientists found that the mothers who said that they experienced very high stress levels also had advanced cellular aging compared to other less stressed mothers.

Important Note: More recent research suggests that cellular aging may be reversible by increasing physical activity and reducing the experience of extreme and ongoing stress. These research findings highlight the importance of moderating our response to difficult situations and the importance of recognizing stressors, reducing or removing them, or changing the way that we respond to parts of daily life that are challenging for us.

Other studies have investigated the health issues experienced among mothers who are raising a child or young adult with a disability. While there are studies that suggest that some mothers experience some conditions at higher rates, other research suggests that there are minor differences in the health of mothers with and without a child with a disability. Of note, cardiovascular issues, back and neck pain, obesity or weight issues, and mental health conditions are the most frequently mentioned issues that mothers may experience at higher rates.

In the words of one past participant:

Poor health is not something that we have to accept. Looking at the health statistics for women versus the health statistics for women with a child with a disability was pretty eye-opening. I thought that was a very valuable piece of information. I’m a data girl, so that spoke to me.

What do we know about why mothers experience a difference in their health compared to other women?

  • Mothers have tremendous responsibilities within their family situation. Therefore mothers may find it challenging to slow down when they do feel unwell with a common cold or flu, or take sufficient time to recover fully before resuming responsibilities.
  • Mothers may face responsibilities that require high levels of fitness and wellbeing such as organising multiple tasks, frequently lifting or supporting their child, or shifting and utilising bulky or cumbersome equipment.
  • Mothers have less time to address health issues that may arise, and to be proactive about wellness.
  • Mothers’ need access to experts and information that will educate, motivate and guide them towards health and the information must be packaged per need and available in a time-efficient way. Many mothers say that they simply don’t have the time to seek information for themselves.
  • Mothers who dedicate time within their weeks to plan and achieve good health do actually achieve better health and wellbeing.
  • Mothers are entitled and capable of feeling great and being healthy!
Entry last updated 08 June, 2023