Poor mothers have smaller babies


Oct 02, 2007 09:56 AM


OTTAWA Mothers from poor neighbourhoods in Toronto are more likely to have smaller babies or give birth prematurely, although immigrant moms partly buck that trend, a new Statistics Canada survey suggests.

The study of births in Toronto between 1996 and 2001, found that mothers from the lowest-income neighbourhoods in the city were 25 per cent more likely to have a preterm birth than mothers in the richest neighbourhoods and 53 per cent more likely to have an underweight baby at full-term.

Immigrant women in the same neighbourhoods, however, were less likely to give birth prematurely, although their babies were smaller. Those smaller babies may be related more to ancestry than income, however.

The study could not determine the origin of all immigrant mothers, but noted that the highest rates of immigration to Toronto in recent years were from China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

"Women born in southern and eastern Asia tend to be shorter and lighter and to have lower caloric intake than Canadian-born women factors that contribute to smaller babies, and consequently, to lower birthweight," the study said.

Immigrant mothers were also less likely to smoke or drink.

Compared with mothers in the richest neighbourhoods, non-immigrant mothers from poor neighbourhoods were more likely to be under 20, to have had at least one illness during pregnancy and to give birth by caesarean section.

"Longer-term residents in low-income neighbourhoods were clearly the subgroup experiencing the highest risk of adverse birth outcomes, probably because of the influence of lasting socio-economic disadvantage."

The study contained a number of caveats. For example, while it looked at mothers from poor neighbourhoods, there was no way to pin down details such as individual income.

More study is needed, the survey concluded:

"One of the main challenges in perinatal health continues to be the reduction of preterm birth. Further research on maternal and general health status differences between recent immigrants and longer-term residents may inform interventions that could help to reduce preterm birth and socio-economic inequalities in preterm birth."