• prenatal care;
  • Hispanic;
  • maternal-infant health;
  • risk factors;
  • low birthweight

The purpose of this study was to compare the incidence of empirically established prenatal risk factors for low birthweight (LBW) outcomes among two groups of low-income mothers: foreign-born Central American women and nonimmigrant, non-Hispanic women. Two hundred ninety-six women who were part of a larger study of maternal role sufficiency were included in the present study: 127 Central American women and 169 nonimmigrant, non-Hispanic women who identified themselves as Black (n= 59) or White (n= 110). Data were collected by public health nurses (PHNs) during home visits and by research nurses in prenatal health department clinics. Comparisons were made between the two groups in areas of demographic characteristics, prenatal health behaviors, and prenatal stressful life-events. Foreign-born Central American mothers were found to be less educated, more likely to be living with their partners, less likely to engage in prenatal health risk behaviors, and less likely to identify stressors in their lives. The initiation of prenatal PHN services by the target group was similar to the comparison group. Their rate of LBW deliveries did not reflect the protective effect often attributed to foreign-born Hispanic mothers. Findings are discussed in light of the paradox of LBW and Hispanic heritage. Recommendations for practice, clinical research, and public policy are also addressed.