baby feet

PRE-NATAL HEALTH
Woman’s health, education & marital status pre-pregnancy affect birth weight of her daughters, granddaughters

We’ve known that pre-natal health of a mother is crucial to delivery of a thriving newborn, but new research by sociologist Jennifer B. Kane really puts that pre-natal timeline into perspective. Her work is the first to tie low natal weight to biological and social factors three generations deep.

“Low-birth-weight babies are more susceptible to later physical and cognitive difficulties, and these difficulties can sharpen the social divide in the U.S.,” Kane says. “But knowing more about what causes low birth weight can help alleviate the intergenerational perpetuation of social inequality through poor infant health.”

In total, she’s looked at 1,580 mother-daughter pairs, focusing on their weight at birth, marital status and education level.

“The odds of having a low-birth-weight baby are one and a half to two times greater for mothers who themselves were born low birth weight compared to mothers who were not born low birth weight,” she says. “But also important are social factors, including education and marital status. Putting all of these factors – both intergenerational and intragenerational – together in a single model can tell us even more.”

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Low-birth-weight babies are more susceptible to later physical and cognitive difficulties, and these difficulties can sharpen the social divide in the U.S.

For example, education level pre-pregnancy can be transmitted from mothers to daughters across at least three generations, according to Kane. And, this intergenerational transmission appears to affect birth weight of future generations.

“Knowing that biological factors perpetuate the cycle – being a low-birth-weight baby makes a woman more susceptible to delivering the same – we start to see that we can’t look at these two factors separately,” she says.

This means that causes of low birth weight extend much further back than the time frame that’s typically focused on: pregnancy. Kane’s work shows that key factors can be traced to the mother’s own early life experiences, in addition to factors dating back multiple generations.

“This really makes a difference in how we think about planning future population-level policies or programs that intend to reduce social inequalities in birth weight,” she says.

Kane’s research has been featured by media around the world in Medical News Today, Science World Report, The Sacramento Bee, and The South Asian Times, to name a few.



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