Low birth weight (LBW) is the principal risk factor for neonatal and infant mortality in developing countries. This study examines the effects of unwanted pregnancy, prenatal depression and social support on the risk of low birth weight in rural southwestern Ethiopia. We hypothesized that unwanted pregnancy and prenatal depression increase the risk of low birth weight, while social support mediates this association.
Data for the study comes from a prospective study in which women were followed from pregnancy through to delivery. Six hundred twenty two women were followed and 537 birth weights were measured within 72 hours. Multivariable log binomial regression was used to model the risk of low birth weight.
The mean birth weight was 2989 grams (SD±504 grams), and the incidence of LBW was 17.88%. The mean birth weight of babies after unwanted pregnancy was 114 g lower compared to births from intended pregnancy. Similarly, mean birth weight for babies among women with symptoms of antenatal depression was 116 grams lower. Results of unadjusted log-binomial regression showed that unwanted pregnancy, prenatal depression and social support were associated with LBW. The relationship between antenatal depressive symptoms and LBW was mediated by the presence of social support, while the association between LBW and unwanted pregnancy remained after multivariable adjustment.
The incidence of low birth weight is high in the study area. Poverty, nonuse of antenatal care, low social support and unwanted pregnancy contribute to this high incidence of low birth weight. Hence, identifying women’s pregnancy intention during antenatal care visits, and providing appropriate counseling and social support will help improve birth outcomes.