The aim of this case–control study was to determine the risk factors for low birthweight in a farming region in South Africa, with particular attention to maternal alcohol use and smoking, both independently and in combination. Data collection was via structured postpartum interviews and review of antenatal and delivery records. The study setting was a regional referral hospital in a farming region. The study subjects were 200 infants with birthweight <2500g (cases) and 200 unmatched control infants of normal weight born during the same period as the cases. The outcome measure was low birthweight, i.e. infant birthweight <2500 g.
Results showed the contribution of term low birthweight (as a measure of intrauterine growth retardation) to the total low-birthweight incidence was almost 50%, indicating a substantial intrauterine growth retardation component in this population. Sociodemographic factors were not as predictive of low birthweight in this predominantly low income population. Smoking (adjusted OR 2.67, [95% CI 1.69, 4.20]) was the strongest life style-related predictor of low birthweight. The alcohol low-birthweight relationship was not significant when adjusted for smoking status (crude OR 2.15, [95% CI 1.37, 3.39]; adjusted OR 1.32, [95% CI 0.80, 2.20]). However, there appeared to be an interaction with combined use of these two substances during pregnancy that increased the risk of low birthweight (adjusted OR increased to 4.24, [95% CI 1.01, 17.76]. It is clear that life style factors such as smoking and drinking are contributing to the occurrence of low birthweight in the target region. A comprehensive health promotion programme needs to be implemented as an integral part of antenatal and family planning services, to reduce smoking and drinking by women in this community.