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OBJECTIVES: There has been very little description of the health and social outcomes at pregnancy and early motherhood of girls who were previously looked after by local authorities. The objectives of this study were to compare the sociodemographic and health profiles of mothers who had spent time in a children's home or with foster parents as a child to mothers who had not. In particular, to examine associations between being looked after and the likelihood of smoking during pregnancy, birth weight, the presence of symptoms of maternal depression and the initiation of breastfeeding. DESIGN: A retrospective cross-sectional study using the baseline questionnaire of the Millennium Cohort Study. SETTING: The UK. PARTICIPANTS: A nationally representative study of 18,492 mothers of babies born in the UK during 2000-2002. EXPOSURE: A history of spending time in a children's home or with foster parents. OUTCOME MEASURES: (1) Smoking during pregnancy; (2) low birth weight; (3) symptoms of maternal depression and (4) initiation of breastfeeding. RESULTS: In univariable analyses, women who had been looked after by local authorities were significantly less likely to be of a higher social class, live in a high-income household or have achieved a high level of education. They were more likely to have a low-birthweight baby and be a single parent. In multivariable analyses, women who had been looked after by local authorities were more likely to smoke during pregnancy (adjusted OR 3.0 95% CI 2.14 to 4.3) and were more likely to have symptoms of depression (adjusted OR 1.98 95% CI 1.4 to 2.7) compared with women who had not been looked after. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that these women carry social disadvantage into motherhood, with the potential of continuing the cycle of deprivation. There is a case for increasing our attention on this group, which can be readily accessed by maternity and early years' services.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





EPIDEMIOLOGY, PUBLIC HEALTH, Adolescent, Adult, Birth Weight, Breast Feeding, Child, Child Welfare, Cross-Sectional Studies, Depression, Female, Foster Home Care, Humans, Infant, Low Birth Weight, Mothers, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications, Pregnancy Outcome, Retrospective Studies, Smoking, Social Welfare, Socioeconomic Factors, Surveys and Questionnaires, United Kingdom, Young Adult