A study has found that pregnant mothers who feel stressed about racial discrimination they have experienced can pass their distress on to their children.
In the study, published in the Social Science and Medicine Journal, the saliva of 64 mothers in Auckland and their babies was tested to measure levels of the stress-related hormone, cortisol.
One of the authors from the University of Colorado, Zaneta Thayer said women who reported suffering discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity gave birth to babies with higher stress levels.
She said higher levels of stress in babies can have adverse effects such as lower weight or premature birth, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and psychiatric disorders later in life.
Dr Thayer said the study shows it was important for people to realise that racism could affect people physically as well as mentally.