Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 726–734 | Cite as

Beyond Marital Status: The Quality of the Mother–Father Relationship and Its Influence on Reproductive Health Behaviors and Outcomes Among Unmarried Low Income Pregnant Women

  • Joan Rosen BlochEmail author
  • David A. Webb
  • Leny Mathews
  • Erika Fitzpatrick Dennis
  • Ian M. Bennett
  • Jennifer F. Culhane


In populations where the majority of pregnancies occur to unmarried women, exploring the quality of partner relationships and reproductive health is warranted. This study assesses differences in psychosocial characteristics, health behaviors, and birth outcomes between unmarried pregnant women who reported having a ‘good’ relationship with their baby’s father, compared to those who reported having a ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ relationship with their baby’s father. This research was part of a prospective study of low-income urban women. All unmarried women (n = 3,633) enrolled during their first prenatal visit were asked questions designed to differentiate between being in a good, fair or poor relationship with the baby’s father. The worse the quality of the relationship, the worse the outcome, with dose–response associations between the quality of the relationship, emotional health, health behaviors, and birthweight. Compared to women in good relationships, those in poor relationships were more likely to have depressive symptoms (aPR 1.93; 95% CI: 1.65, 2.25), stress (aPR 1.24; 95% CI: 1.14, 1.35), use drugs (aPR 1.34; 95% CI: 1.11, 1.61) and smoke (aPR 1.28; 95% CI: 1.10, 1.49). Although infants born to mothers in poor relationships had the highest rate of low birth weight, the differences were not significant. Delving beyond marital status to assess the quality of partner relationships among unmarried mothers is important. Further research is needed to understand the complex interplay of individual, social and environmental factors promoting or hindering stable and supportive partner relationships among socially disadvantaged populations of pregnant women.


Unmarried mothers Low income African American mothers Maternal health Partner Relationship quality 



This research was funded in parts by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1RO1D36462-01A), the National Institute of Nursing Research (K23 NR010747-01A1) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (TS-0626 and TS-561 and TS-286 14/14).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joan Rosen Bloch
    • 1
    Email author
  • David A. Webb
    • 2
  • Leny Mathews
    • 2
  • Erika Fitzpatrick Dennis
    • 3
  • Ian M. Bennett
    • 4
  • Jennifer F. Culhane
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.College of Nursing and Health ProfessionsDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Adolescent MedicineChildren’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of NeonatologyChildren’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Family Medicine and Community HealthSchool of Medicine of the University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of MedicineDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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