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Matern Child Health J. 2006 Nov;10(6):473-9.

Delivering a very low birth weight infant and the subsequent risk of divorce or separation.

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Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 320-A Ryals Building, 1665 University Boulevard, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-0022, USA.



The simultaneous rise over the last two decades in the U.S. in the proportion of VLBW (<1500 grams) deliveries and the improvement in their chance of survival has increased the number of families caring for VLBW infants and children. The families of VLBW infants with adverse outcomes can face psychological and monetary stresses, which in turn may influence marital instability and increase the risk of divorce or separation. The purpose of this paper is to identify the relationship of having a VLBW birth with the probability of divorce or separation in the first two years following delivery.


We use data from the 1988 National Maternal and Infant Health Survey (NMIHS). This national stratified, systematic "follow-back" survey augments information from birth records in 1988 by obtaining information on social, demographic, and economic variables from women that delivered a baby in 1988. We estimate a proportional discrete time hazard model of transitions to divorce/separation.


Parents of a VLBW infant have 2-fold higher odds of divorce/separation compared with parents of a child with a birth weight greater than 1500 grams. Two years after delivery of a non-VLBW baby 95 percent of the marriages remain stable, while about 90 percent of the marriages remain stable following the birth of a VLBW baby. If the pregnancy was not desired, then only 85 percent of the marriages remain stable 2 years following the delivery of a VLBW infant.


There is an evident need to counsel and support families with VLBW infants on mechanisms to cope with the initial stressors that can be anticipated to arise.

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