Theoretical Insights into Preconception Social Conditions and Perinatal Health: The Role of Place and Social Relationships
Recent efforts to explain the stark social and racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes that have persisted for decades in the U.S. have looked beyond prenatal factors, to explore preconception social conditions that may influence perinatal health via dysregulation of physiologic processes. The extant evidence supporting this link however remains limited, both due to a lack of data and theory. To address the latter, this manuscript generates a structured set of theoretical insights that further develop the link between two preconception social conditions—place and social relationships—and perinatal health. The insights propose the following. Place: necessarily encompasses all social contexts to which females are exposed from infancy through young adulthood; encompasses a variety of related exposures that, when possible, should be jointly considered; and may compound the effect of poverty—in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood—on perinatal health. Social relationships: span relationships from early life through adulthood, and extend to intergenerational associations; often involve (or induce) major changes in the lives of individuals and should be examined with an emphasis on the developmental stage in which the change occurred; and can reflect a lack of social integration, or, social isolation. We also identify potential biological and social-structural mechanisms linking these preconception social conditions to perinatal health, and conclude by identifying promising directions for future research.