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NRI women deliver lean babies: Study

As per a Stanford research, these infants weigh about 5.5 pounds or less at birth, reports Kanupriya Vashisht.

india Updated: May 30, 2006 14:43 IST

Compared to the strapping Americans, Indians in America are considered small and petite.

The trend continues even among babies born to second generation Indians.

Despite having fewer risk factors, US-born Indian women are more likely than their Mexican-American counterparts to deliver low birth weight infants, according to researchers at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Stanford's School of Medicine.

The finding confirms previous research that showed a similar pattern in more recent immigrants, and suggests that physicians should consider their patients' ethnic backgrounds when planning their care.

Researchers call the previously identified differences in pregnancy outcomes between Indian and Mexican immigrants the "dual paradox."

That's because Mexican women giving birth in the United States are more likely than women from India to have healthy-sized newborns, even though they are less likely to have completed high school or to have initiated prenatal care during the first trimester of their pregnancy.

In contrast, newborns of Indian immigrants, most of whom have completed college and begun prenatal care early, are more likely to deliver a low birth weight infant.

"Now we see that the indicators we have traditionally used to predict pregnancy outcomes - maternal educational level and age, and access to early prenatal care, for example - aren't reliable for every population," Packard Children's neonatologist Ashima Madan, MD, said.

Madan is the lead author of the research, published in the March issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

Madan, associate professor of paediatrics at the medical school, and her colleagues set out to determine for the first time whether this pattern persisted in the US-born daughters of these immigrants.

The team surveyed more than 6 million births that occurred in 11 states between 1995 and 2000 to white, foreign and US-born Asian-Indian and Mexican women.

In addition to collecting data about the mother's birthplace and ethnic group, the birth records documented maternal age, history of prenatal care, maternal use of alcohol or tobacco, maternal educational level, and common complications of pregnancy and labour.

They found that Asian-Indian women were more than twice as likely to have low birth weight infants, as were white women.

These infants weigh 2,500 grams (about 5.5 pounds) or less at birth, either because they grew poorly in the womb or were born prematurely.

They were also more than twice as likely to have babies that were small for their gestational age, regardless of whether they were premature.

In other words, a generation in America didn't significantly improve or worsen the outcome for the Asian-Indian infants.

So what's so bad about being small?

"We're concerned because we know that abnormally small babies run a higher risk of foetal distress and often require more intensive medical care and longer hospital stays after birth," Madan said.

In addition, unusually small babies are known to be at higher risk for a variety of medical problems in adulthood, including diabetes, hypertension and an increased risk of heart disease - conditions that some studies have reported to be higher in Asian Indians.

Madan and her colleagues speculate that, among other things, maternal birth weight, stress, attitudes toward pregnancy and family support or other biological risk factors may play a role in foetal growth.

In addition, Indian mothers were more likely than either Mexican Americans or whites to have diabetes, which in severe cases can restrict foetal growth.

"Hopefully by continuing to study these populations we may identify new interventions that improve prenatal outcomes for women of all ethnic backgrounds," Madan said.

First Published: May 25, 2006 12:33 IST