Mothers who were maltreated as children have increased risk for giving birth to low birth weight babies. The findings, by researchers at the University of Washington, are the first to show that maternal maltreatment can affect the health of offspring.
The study also finds that childhood poverty and substance use during adolescence and pregnancy contribute to low birth weight, which is linked to infant mortality and chronic health problems.
"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," said Amelia Gavin, lead author and assistant professor in the UW School of Social Work. "To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that maternal childhood maltreatment may lead to lower birth weight among later-born offspring."
The results were published online March 14 in Journal of Adolescent Health.
Each year about 8 percent of babies in the United States are born weighing less than 2,500 grams, about five and a half pounds. Low birth weight due to growth restriction in the womb or from being born prematurely puts newborns at a greater risk for death before their first birthday. Babies with low birth weights who survive their first year are more likely to develop obesity, diabetes and other health risks later in life. The rate of these births has increased since the mid-1980s even as prenatal care has improved.
"What matters most for healthy birth weights is the health status the mother brings into pregnancy," Gavin said. "We're trying to map pathways of early life exposures that lead to low birth weight."
Gavin and her co-authors examined data from an ethnically-diverse sample of 136 mothers participating in the Seattle Social Development Project since childhood. The long-term project, started by UW's Social Developmental Research Group in 1981, looks for ways to enhance posit
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University of Washington