Newswise — Socially disadvantaged mothers who receive home visits from trained community visitors are less likely to deliver low birth weight babies than other mothers in similar circumstances, a new study finds.

Moreover, the earlier that visits occur in a women's pregnancy, the greater the reduction. These results held true even after researchers adjusted for factors such as smoking.

"This type of service holds promise for reducing low birth weight deliveries among at-risk women and adolescents," said lead study author Eunju Lee, an assistant research professor at the State University of New York at Albany.

The study appears in the February 2009 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Low birth weight babies — those less than 5.5 pounds — face significant disadvantages compared to heavier babies. Past research shows they are at higher risk for poor health and slow development, and even early death. They are also twice as likely to end up in foster care or to suffer abuse.

The new study included 500 women, two-thirds of whom were African-American or Hispanic and 90 percent of whom were unmarried. All underwent screening for poverty, teen pregnancy and the risk of child abuse. Roughly, half of the participants received biweekly home visits through the Healthy Families New York programs.

Each home visitor — who shared the same cultural background as participants they visited — first underwent intensive training by Healthy Families America staff.

The visitor helped the participant to (1) improve the level of support from her family; (2) learn about healthy prenatal behavior by providing appropriate information on nutrition, smoking, alcohol and drugs and (3) establish links with a health care provider. If necessary, the visitor also facilitated the women's access to food stamps and other services.

The percentage of LBW babies for the home-visited mothers in the study essentially met Healthy People 2010's goal of reducing prevalence to 5 percent. Of mothers who received home visits, 5.1 percent had low birth weight babies, while the rate for unvisited mothers was 9.8 percent.

Carolina Reyes, executive director of the LA Best Babies Network, said that home visitation can be empowering for a mother and can improve her ability to be more engaged in her care. Reyes said this study is consistent with others demonstrating that an intensive, personalized home visitation program improves birth outcomes and could have a long-lasting effect on mother and child.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (858) 457-7292 or [email protected].

Lee E, et al. Reducing low birth weight through home visitation: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Prev Med 36(2), 2009.

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American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Feb-2009)