This cohort study aimed to estimate the effect of individual maternal social capital during pregnancy on birth outcomes in the context of the Mother-child cohort (Rhea study), in Crete-Greece. Women were recruited from four prenatal clinics in Heraklion-Crete for one year beginning in February 2007. 610 women completed the self-administered Social Capital Questionnaire at about the 24th week of gestation. The scale assessed total maternal social capital and four social capital subscales: Participation in the Community, Feelings of Safety, Value of Life and Social Agency, and Tolerance of Diversity. Potential confounders included characteristics that have an established or potential association with the maternal social capital, and the birth outcomes (preterm birth, small weight for the gestational age, fetal weight growth restriction, weight, length and head circumference). The results of logistic and linear regression models indicated that there was an increase in the risk of preterm birth for every unit increase in maternal participation (range 12-48), and especially in the risk of medically indicated preterm birth. Although the findings suggest that participation is associated with an increased probability for preterm birth, we cannot know whether this is a protective or damaging social capital effect. Women who participate more in their communities may have enhanced access to information and/or resources, easier access to health care and support when they face maternal and fetal conditions that trigger the need for medical intervention. On the other hand, women may be more exposed to social and/or environmental stressors. Future research needs to distinguish between different types of participation and different components of social capital to better understand their associations with birth outcomes.
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