Publication Title: BMJ Open
Abstract: Objective: To examine the association between maternal age at first birth and infant mortality, stunting, underweight, wasting, diarrhoea and anaemia in children in low- and middle-income countries.
Design: Cross-sectional analysis of nationally representative household samples. A modified Poisson regression model is used to estimate unadjusted and adjusted RR ratios.
Setting: Low- and middle-income countries.
Population: First births to women aged 12–35 where this birth occurred 12–60 months prior to interview. The sample for analysing infant mortality is comprised of 176 583 children in 55 low- and middle-income countries across 118 Demographic and Health Surveys conducted between 1990 and 2008.
Main outcome measures: Infant mortality in children under 12 months and stunting, underweight, wasting, diarrhoea and anaemia in children under 5 years.
Results: The investigation reveals two salient findings. First, in the sample of women who had their first birth between the ages of 12 and 35, the risk of poor child health outcome is lowest for women who have their first birth between the ages of 27 and 29. Second, the results indicate that both biological and social mechanisms play a role in explaining why children of young mothers have poorer outcomes.
Conclusions: The first-born children of adolescent mothers are the most vulnerable to infant mortality and poor child health outcomes. Additionally, first time mothers up to the age of 27 have a higher risk of having a child who has stunting, diarrhoea and moderate or severe anaemia. Maternal and child health programs should take account of this increased risk even for mothers in their early 20s. Increasing the age at first birth in developing countries may have large benefits in terms of child health.