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Friday, 24 March, 2000, 00:37 GMT
Small babies spell danger for mother

The weight of a baby could affect the mother's health
Women who give birth to underweight babies could be at much higher risk of dying from heart disease, experts have found.

In fact, for every kilo below average birthweight, the risk to the mother doubles.

The startling research was carried out by statistics experts at the University of Bristol, and published in the British Medical Journal.

But no-one is quite sure why the risk appears to rise so fast.

The research team looked at more than 40,000 live births between 1976 and 1997.

Then they checked on whether the mother was still alive, and if not, what was the cause of death.

They found that mothers of babies weighing less than 2.5kg at birth were seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

Even those whose babies weighed between 2.5kg and the average, 3.5kg were almost twice as likely to die from heart disease.

Not just bad habits

The research team said the difference in outcome could not simply be explained by bad health habits which could affect the birthweight.

Writing in the journal, they said: "The magnitude of the association is too great to be generated plausibly by the known associations between birth weight and maternal smoking, alcohol drinking or anthropometry (poor diet)."

There are three possible explanations for the problem - poor social circumstances, maternal health or genetic factors.

It could be a combination of all of these.

Belinda Linden, a nurse advisor for the British Heart Foundation, said that more research was needed into possible genetic causes of heart disease.

She said: "If a link between low birth weight and parental risk of cardiovascular disease is found, this population could be targeted with increased risk factor monitoring such as regular blood pressure check-ups.

"Having a familial tendency towards heart disease does not mean that the disease is unavoidable.

"Parents within this group will certainly be very motivated to identify and modify the risk factors that they can, to protect their health and that of their children. "

It is well known that low birthweight babies are at increased risk of health problems later in life.

This is the second study which shows the pronounced link between low birthweight babies and poor health later in life for the mother.

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