Caring for Low Birth-Weight Baby Hard on Moms: Study

The added stress takes its toll on health, researchers say

THURSDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Women with low birth-weight babies -- those less than about 3.3 pounds -- are more likely to have health problems five years later than mothers of normal birth-weight children, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that addressing the stress these mothers face could help them avoid future health problems.

"We found that caring for a baby born very low birth weight can have negative downstream effects for maternal health," said the study's leader, Dr. Whitney Witt, an assistant professor of population health sciences at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, in a university news release. "This suggests that mothers of these babies and their families should get help and support both early on and as the child grows up, in order to keep the whole family healthy."

In conducting the study, researchers interviewed about 300 mothers of very low birth-weight babies and 300 mothers of normal-weight babies. They found the mothers of low birth-weight babies have more stress than other mothers, which could take a greater toll on their physical health.

Women whose low birth-weight babies had behavioral problems at age 2 also had worse mental health years later than other women. The researchers noted this also could be due to increased stress.

The study, published online Dec. 10 in the journal Quality of Life Research, also revealed that the longer the babies spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, the greater the negative effect on a mother's health.

"This study suggests that having a child born very low birth weight can have a lasting effect on mothers, and long-term or chronic stress may play a very important role," said Witt. "This is important information for pediatric and family medicine clinicians, so they can monitor, refer and treat these at-risk mothers as needed."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides statistics and information on birth weight and gestation.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: University of Wisconsin-Madison, news release, Dec. 13, 2011

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