Tracking progress towards global newborn health targets depends largely on maternal reported data collected through large, nationally representative surveys. We evaluated the validity, across a range of recall period lengths (1 to 24 months post-delivery), of maternal report of birthweight, birth size and length of pregnancy in Nepal.
We compared maternal reports to reference standards of birthweights measured within 72 hours of delivery and gestational age generated from reported first day of the last menstrual period (LMP) prospectively collected as part of a population-based study (n = 1502). We calculated sensitivity, specificity, area the under the receiver operating curve (AUC) as a measure of individual-level accuracy, and the inflation factor (IF) to quantify population-level bias for each indicator. We assessed if length of recall period modified accuracy by stratifying measurements across time bins and using a modified Poisson regression with robust error variance to estimate the relative risk (RR) of correctly classifying newborns as low birthweight (LBW) or preterm, adjusting for child sex, place of delivery, maternal age, maternal education, parity, and ethnicity.
The LBW indicator using maternally reported birthweight in grams had low individual-level accuracy (AUC = 0.69) and high population-level bias (inflation factor IF = 0.62). LBW using maternally reported birth size and the preterm birth indicator had lower individual-level accuracy (AUC = 0.58 and 0.56, respectively) and higher population-level bias (IF = 0.28 and 0.35, respectively) up to 24 months following birth. Length of recall time did not affect accuracy of LBW indicators. For the preterm birth indicator, accuracy did not change with length of recall up to 20 months after birth and improved slightly beyond 20 months.
The use of maternal reports may underestimate and bias indicators for LBW and preterm birth. In settings with high prevalence of LBW and preterm births, these indicators generated from maternal reports may be more vulnerable to misclassification. In populations where an important proportion of births occur at home or where weight is not routinely measured, mothers perhaps place less importance on remembering size at birth. Further work is needed to explore whether these conclusions on the validity of maternal reports hold in similar rural and low-income settings.