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Adolescent mothers with higher educational hopes give birth to heavier babies

Indicators of higher academic achievement, including aspirations, in adolescent mothers seems to correlate with higher birth weight for their babies, according to research published in open access journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. Higher birth weight is associated with healthier babies.

Previous studies have found that maternal educational attainment is linked to higher birth weight in adult mothers, but this is the first study to look at adolescent mothers (see notes to editor for pre- and post- publication hyperlinks). Researchers from Tulane University used national data collected about adolescent health in the USA. Four sets of interviews were conducted beginning in the school year 1994-1995, with follow-up interviews up to 2008. These interviews identified 763 girls who became pregnant and gave birth while adolescent.

In the interviews, academic performance was assessed based on reported grade point average and whether or not a grade was skipped (i.e., moved up a year) by the adolescents. To measure educational aspiration, the girls were asked how much they wanted and were likely to go into third level education, and how disappointed their mother would be disappointed if they did not go.

The results of the observations and interviews found that black adolescents skipping a grade was associated with a 200 gram increase in birth weight. In non-black adolescents, skipping a grade or having a higher educational aspiration was associated with a higher birth weight. The authors found that even when taking into account factors such as smoking during pregnancy and prenatal visits the results remained the same [although there was a higher birth weight in black adolescents who smoked, the authors are quick to caution this number is too small to draw conclusions]. One of the limitations of this study noted by the authors is that these data are based on self-reporting by the mothers.

The authors suggest that a higher educational aspiration could be an indication of adolescent mothers who have a greater hope for the future and better social support than others. In contrast, adolescent girls who do not have high aspirations may suggest a family or community that is not supportive of future goals, which could mean reduced social support during pregnancy.

Emily Harville, one of the authors of the article, says: “Our findings suggest that interventions that affect adolescents’ educational aspirations and grade acceleration might have positive effects on birth outcomes should the adolescent become pregnant. Thus, the development of a supportive family and school environment is important in stimulating educational aspiration and promoting academic performance, which also has the benefit of being positively associated with birth outcomes among adolescent mothers. In addition, efforts should be made to identify and place students in appropriate learning environment/grades.”


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Notes to Editor

Academic performance, educational aspiration and birth outcomes among adolescent mothers: a national longitudinal study
Yiqiong Xie, Emily Wheeler Harville and Aubrey Spriggs Madkour
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:3

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