Physical growth of low birthweight infants in the first year of life: Impact of maternal behaviors

Susan J. DeWitt, John W. Sparks, Paul B. Swank, Karen Smith, Susan E. Denson, Susan H. Landry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Physical growth of preterm infants relates to many medical factors, such as birthweight, severity of medical illnesses, and nutritional status. We previously reported that maternal behaviors influence developmental outcomes in low birthweight infants (birthweight < 1600 g); we now hypothesize that maternal behaviors also influence physical somatic growth in low birthweight (LBW) infants. We serially followed 218 mother-infant pairs from birth through 12 months of age, One-hundred thirteen LBW infants were categorized based on severity of early medical complications. Low Risk infants (LR, n = 71) had acute respiratory distress and/or grade 1-2 intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), or grade 3 IVH without hydrocephalus. High Risk infants (HR, n = 42) had chronic lung disease, grade 3 IVH with hydrocephalus or grade 4 IVH, and/or periventricular leukomalacia. We also studied 105 socioeconomic (SES) matched Full Term (FT) controls. Maternal behaviors were assessed during home visits with global ratings of Warm Sensitivity and Punitiveness. Infant weight was measured at birth and at 38 weeks, 6 months and 12 months corrected gestational age. We examined alternative expressions of weight growth across the three groups by developing the Weight Quotient (WQ), which is the ratio of actual measured weight to the median weight for age. For each infant the regression of the WQ ratio against correct gestational age was analyzed. We used a General Linear Model to compare the relation of the maternal variables to the weight quotients for the three groups. We determined the catch up growth as the slope of each regression. Results indicated that higher levels of maternal Punitiveness were related to slower rates of growth for High Risk (R2 = 0.36), but not Low Risk or Full Term. For maternal Warm Sensitivity (R2 = 0.36), there were significant (P < 0.05) inverse relations with weight gain growth for the Full Term infants. These data suggest that some maternal behaviors are related to the growth of term and premature infants, although the mechanisms through which this occurs is unclear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997


  • Catch-up growth
  • Growth
  • Maternal behaviors
  • Premature
  • Weight-quotient

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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