Children of abused mothers may be smaller at birth and show stunted early growth, according to research from Bangladesh.

Prior studies have shown that physical and sexual violence against women is associated with low birth weight of the offspring, as well as with an increased risk of early infant death.

To investigate further, Dr. Kajsa Asling-Monemi, at Uppsala University in Sweden, and colleagues determined the birth weight of 3,164 children and followed their early growth patterns until they were 2 years old.

Their mothers -- 4,436 altogether -- were mostly married and not employed. They were 26 years old on average at the start of the study.

Half of the mothers reported being a victim of some sort of family violence during their lives.

Fourteen percent experienced physical violence that involved slapping or shoving and 8 percent suffered more severe violence such as hitting, kicking, dragging, or choking. Eight percent of the women experienced severe violence while pregnant.

Additionally, 24 percent of the women reported some sort of sexual abuse, and another 28 percent said they had been insulted, humiliated, intimidated, or experienced other emotional abuse.

At birth, the children in the study weighed 2701 grams (about 6 pounds), on average. Overall, 33 percent were considered low birth weight, weighing less than 2500 grams (5.5 pounds) at birth. Children born to mothers reporting any type of violence tended to be in this low birth weight group.

Among children born to mothers reporting any violence, nearly 42 percent were underweight, about 13 percent were undernourished, and more than 55 percent had an impaired growth pattern known as stunting by the age of 2 years.

By contrast, among children of non-abused mothers, 37 percent were underweight, about 11 percent were undernourished, and almost 50 percent were stunted.

The association between mothers' abuse and impaired growth of their children remained strong after the investigators allowed for mother's education, number of previous births, and religion (Hindu mothers tended to have children who weighed less and were of shorter length than Muslim mothers).

Though most of the size differences between children born to abused, versus non-abused, mothers is present at birth, these findings show "violence-related growth retardation became more pronounced during the 2 years of follow up," Asling-Monemi and co-investigators point out in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

This study, they conclude, adds to the "multitude of confirmed and plausible health consequences" caused by violence against women.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, October 2009