Poverty and Toxic Stress in the Womb

Excerpted from: Harvard Research: Impact of poverty begins in the womb, but doesn’t have to
Click video link at end for full video

We all know about the effects of toxins, such as alcohol, drugs and lead paint, that are passed on to the developing infant during pregnancy. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child is breaking new ground in neuro-chemistry and neuro-biology to expose the effects of toxic stress on the developing brain in the womb – and how to break the cycle. Poverty is a constant threat to the developing baby’s brain.


At birth, the infant brain already has nearly all the billions of cells of a mature brain. The chronic stress a pregnant mom, living in poverty, experiences actually alters the infant’s brain. The mom’s stress system is constantly activated – and the baby’s stress system, in the womb, mirrors the mom’s. High blood pressure and high levels of cortisol rewires and prepares the developing brain for a dangerous world. These babies are born with hair trigger stress responses which affect every aspect of their lives, such as academic struggles, failed relationships and incarceration. However, the poverty cycle can be broken in utero.

An organization, The Nurse-Family Partnership provides struggling mom’s support systems which include food pantries, access to prenatal care and education. These caregivers provide one of the most important contributors to stress reduction – love. Some of these moms have no family or friends as a support network. Sadly, an overused coping strategy for those living in poverty is substance abuse. Studies show dramatic reduction in stressors and the associated toxins, with loving caregivers.

As a society, early intervention to break the poverty cycle benefits us all. We could see quantifiable improvements in chronic diseases and emergency room visits, education, unemployment and incarceration. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child estimates dollars spent on early intervention will be recouped in 2-3 years.

You can view the full video (approx. 35 minutes) by clicking this link: Harvard Research: Impact of poverty begins in the womb, but doesn’t have to


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

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