It’s hard to escape our pasts. Past trauma often leaves people fractured in some way, either physically or emotionally. And now there is a new study that childhood trauma can trickle down to the next generation.
According to new research, women who experienced abuse in childhood are at higher risk of giving birth to a low birth weight baby (a newborn that weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.)
In addition, women who faced poverty during childhood and substance abuse during their teenage years (as well as abusing drugs in pregnancy) are at increased risk of having low birth weight babies.
The 411 on Low Birth Weight Babies
Low birth weight babies face serious health problems as newborns – including lasting disabilities (mental retardation, learning problems, hearing and vision loss, and cerebral palsy) and death. The March of Dimes reports that 1 in every 12 American babies is born with a low birth weight. Fortunately, with the advanced in newborn medical care, doctors have dramatically decreased the number of babies dying from low birth weight.
Roughly 67 percent of low birth weight babies are premature. The rest are full-term babies – which means they’ve stayed in the womb for at least 37 weeks of pregnancy.
There are two main reasons why a baby is born with a low birth weight. This includes fetal growth restriction (the baby’s growth was slowed or halted in the womb, and they did not grow at the rate they should have) and premature babies (infants born before pregnancy week 37).
There are a number of factors that can contribute to premature birth and fetal growth restriction. These include the mother not gaining enough pregnancy weight, birth defects in the baby, health problems the mother experienced during pregnancy, smoking or drinking during pregnancy, infections in either the mother or baby), placental problems, and socioeconomic factors – as this new study has concluded.
New Study: Socioeconomic Factors Matters
This new study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle, examined the data of 136 mothers who had been part of the research since they were childhood. The researchers found that the women who had suffered from poverty, or abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) were more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and use illegal drugs during pregnancy. As a result, they were at risk for giving birth to a low birth weight baby.
Amelia Gavin, the study author and a professor for the School of Social Work, said in a news release:
“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.”
The researchers urge doctors to ask women planning to become pregnant, and newly pregnant women, about any history of poverty of childhood abuse. If doctors can screen who may be at risk, they can offer help to those who may be at risk for substance abuse during pregnancy.
This study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Read more about low birth weight at the March of Dimes website.