Born early and born poor: An eco-bio-developmental model for poverty and preterm birth

Abstract. Poverty is associated with adverse long-term cognitive outcomes in children. Poverty is also linked with preterm delivery which, in turn, is associated with adverse cognitive outcomes. However, the extent of the effect of poverty on preterm delivery, as well as proposed mechanisms by which they occur, have not been well described. Further, the impact of poverty on preterm school readiness has not been reviewed. As the childhood poverty level continues to increase in the U.S., we examine the evidence around physiological, neurological, cognitive and learning outcomes associated with prematurity in the context of poverty. We use the evidence gathered to suggest an Eco-Bio-Developmental model, emphasizing poverty as a toxic stress which predisposes preterm birth and which, via epigenetic forces, can continue into the next generation. Continued postnatal social disadvantage for these developmentally high-risk preterm infants is strongly linked with poor neurodevelopmental outcomes, decreased school readiness, and decreased educational attainment which can perpetuate the poverty cycle. We suggest social remedies aimed at decreasing the impact of poverty on mothers, fathers, and children which may be effective in reducing the burden of preterm birth.

*Corresponding Author: 

Dr. Heather Brumberg, Division of Neonatology, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, 100 Woods Road, Valhalla, 10595 NY, USA. Tel.: +1 914 493 8491; Fax: +1 914 493 1005;