Maternal trade-off in treating high-risk children

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Low birthweight and the infant's health status are expected to strongly influence the child's reproductive value and, thus, the maternal decisions on the amount and timing of investment. A total of 590 Hungarian primiparous mothers giving birth in the late 1980s were recruited for the longitudinal study. Mothers of high-risk infants shortened the duration of breast-feeding and interbirth intervals, compared to those with an infant of higher survival prospects. The most powerful predictor of the length of the lactation period was the infant's weight at birth, whereas birth spacing was significantly influenced by the health status of the older child. Socioeconomic status had a positive effect on maternal care as well, but it did not change the basic pattern of diminishing maternal care as a function of the infants' low reproductive value. The combination of the above factors resulted in a cumulative effect on maternal investment of mothers with handicapped children of various degrees of risk. An attempt has been made to exclude alternative explanations and to discuss the proximate mechanisms of discriminative parental solicitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-212
Number of pages16
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2001


  • Birth spacing
  • Breast-feeding
  • Low birthweight
  • Maternal reproductive decisions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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