The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Development of a maternal stress measure associated with low birthweight


1Anthropology, University of Florida, 2Genetics Institute, University of Florida

April 16, 2020 20, Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Maternal stress has been shown to increase the risk of infant mortality and a host of adverse health outcomes throughout the offspring’s life. The risk of adverse health effects is highest in babies born below 2.5 kg, the WHO definition of low birthweight (LBW). This study sought to develop a maternal stress measure associated with LBW by identifying maternal stress exposures that distinguish between mothers of LBW babies and mothers of larger babies. Mothers in the study (n=146) delivered singleton infants at HEAL Africa hospital in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The questions that significantly distinguished mothers of LBW infants included, in decreasing order of significance: fear for one’s life during the pregnancy, being unmarried, pregnancy was the result of rape, raped before age of 18, being ashamed to cry in front of husband or partner during pregnancy, and being a war refugee alone/without family in the past. The LBW-associated maternal stress measure was generated as an unweighted count of mothers’ exposures to the six identified stressors. This measure of maternal stress was positively associated with LBW risk (β=0.84; p=0.005), doubled the adjusted relative risk of LBW (aRR = 2.29; 95% CI 1.59, 2.99), and explained 28% of the variation in LBW, after controlling for maternal age and BMI. This maternal stress measure focused on the range of birthweights known to carry the highest disease risk, in the hope that this measure may provide clarity on the relationship between maternal stressors and the fetal environment among these study participants.

This research was supported by NSF grants BCS-1231264, BCS-1540372, BCS-1719866, DGE-1315138, UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund.