Moms With Tough Childhoods More Likely to Have Smaller Babies: Study

Abuse, poverty during a mother's youth is associated with heightened health risks for the next generation

THURSDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- Women who suffered abuse in childhood are at increased risk of having low birth weight babies, a new study indicates.

It also found that poverty during childhood and substance use during adolescence and pregnancy boosts the chances of having low birth weight babies, who are at increased risk for death before their first birthday and chronic health problems.

About 8 percent of babies born in the United States each year have a low birth weight -- less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams).

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle examined data from 136 mothers who had been part of a study since childhood. They found that women who suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse or poverty in childhood were more likely to smoke, drink or use drugs during pregnancy, which increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby.

"Our findings suggest that a mother's economic position in childhood and her experience of maltreatment during childhood have implications for her children born years later," study author Amelia Gavin, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, said in a university news release.

"What is important about this study is that it was the mother's experience of poverty and maltreatment in childhood, not her poverty or depression or obesity in adulthood, that contributed to her infant's low birth weight," she added.

Doctors should ask prospective mothers about any childhood maltreatment and offer help to those at risk for substance abuse during pregnancy, Gavin suggested.

The study was published online recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about low birth weight.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, March 29, 2011

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