Support during pregnancy for women at increased risk of low birthweight babies
Background: Studies consistently show a relationship between social disadvantage and low birthweight. Many countries have programs offering special assistance to women thought to be at risk for giving birth to a low birthweight infant. These programs may include advice and counseling (about nutrition, rest, stress management, alcohol and recreational drug use), tangible assistance (e.g., transportation to clinic appointments, help with household responsibilities), and emotional support. The programs may be delivered by multidisciplinary teams of health professionals, by specially trained lay workers, or by a combination of lay and professional workers.
Objectives: The objective of this review was to assess the effects of programs offering additional social support for pregnant women who are believed to be at risk for giving birth to preterm or low birthweight babies.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (March 2009).
Selection criteria: Randomized trials of additional support during at-risk pregnancy by either a professional (social worker, midwife, or nurse) or specially trained lay person, compared to routine care. Additional support was defined as some form of emotional support (e.g., counseling, reassurance, sympathetic listening) and information or advice or both, either in home visits or during clinic appointments, and could include tangible assistance (e.g., transportation to clinic appointments, assistance with the care of other children at home).
Data collection and analysis: We independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Double data entry was performed. We contacted study authors to request additional information.
Results: Eighteen trials, involving 12,658 women, were included. The trials were generally of good to excellent quality, although three used an allocation method likely to introduce bias. Programs offering additional social support for at-risk pregnant women were not associated with improvements in any perinatal outcomes, but there was a reduction in the likelihood of caesarean birth and an increased likelihood of elective termination of pregnancy. Some improvements in immediate maternal psychosocial outcomes were found in individual trials.
Authors' conclusions: Pregnant women need the support of caring family members, friends, and health professionals. While programs which offer additional support during pregnancy are unlikely to prevent the pregnancy from resulting in a low birthweight or preterm baby, they may be helpful in reducing the likelihood of caesarean birth.
Hodnett ED, Fredericks S. Support during pregnancy for women at increased risk of low birthweight babies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, Issue 3.