Homelessness During Pregnancy Puts Young Children at Risk

Homelessness During Pregnancy Puts Young Children at Risk
Diana B. Cutts, Sharon Coleman, Maureen M. Black, Mariana M. Chilton, John T. Cook, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Timothy C. Heeren, Alan Meyers, Megan Sandel, Patrick H. Casey, Deborah A. Frank
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Homelessness continues to be a reality for millions of Americans every year. Reports indicate that an increasing number of infants are being born to women who were homeless during their pregnancy. A study published by the Maternal and Child Health Journal evaluates how this growing issue affects birth outcomes. The study surveyed predominately low income women with children less than 48 months old across five U.S. cities to determine if homelessness increases the risk of negative birth outcomes. Results show that infants of homeless prenatal women are more likely to experience low birth weight (LBW), preterm delivery and lower adjusted mean birth weight. The findings indicate prenatal homelessness is a unique, time-dependent risk factor for adverse birth outcomes. The study has implications for housing policy in regards to providing immediate housing solutions to homeless women who are pregnant.

Key findings:

  • Nine percent of those surveyed reported homelessness, with two-thirds of them being homeless during their pregnancy.
  • 90 percent of homeless mothers were born in the U.S.
  • Mothers with stable housing were more likely than prenatal and postnatal women to be married or partnered, employed, and to have higher education levels.
  • Prenatally homeless mothers were more likely than consistently housed mothers to acknowledge that they smoked cigarettes.
  • Prenatally homeless women experienced a 21 percent low birth weight rate, compared to a 14 percent rate for non-homeless women and 15 percent rate for postnatally homeless women.
  • The mean birth weight of infants born to prenatally homeless mothers was 53 grams less than babies of consistently housed mothers.
  • Prenatally homeless women experienced an 18 percent preterm delivery rate, compared to a 14 percent rate for non-homeless women and a 17 percent rate for postnatally homeless women.

Policy recommendations:

  • Prioritize measures to prevent homelessness during pregnancy through enhanced access to housing assistance, housing relocation and stabilization methods.
  • Pregnant domestic violence victims should benefit from eviction protection.