It sounds straight out of a Brothers Grimm tale, but for German
babies born in rural communities in the 18th and 19th centuries, having a
paternal grandmother was downright dangerous. In a study examining 3,500
birth and death records between 1720 and 1874, infants with a living
paternal grandmother were twice as likely to die in their first month.
But if Mom's mom was around, survival rates soared by 79 percent in the
first six months of life.
"Paternal grandmothers may have been suspicious of the paternity of
the grandchild," says Jan Beise, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute in
Rostock, Germany, and co-author of the study, which was published in
Uncertainty about paternity would make these women less likely to
aid their pregnant daughters-in-law. Less help meant worse prenatal
conditions for babies and greater risk of early death.
Maternal grandmothers would have been less concerned about
paternity and more likely to provide assistance and support.