Low Birth Weight

low birth weight

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What Is Low Birth Weight?

On average, human babies spend about 280 days or 40 weeks in their mother’s womb. This is where they develop from embryos into complex bodies with fully functional organs. At the end of 40 weeks, the baby is prepared to be born and to withstand the world outside the mother’s sterile and warm womb.

The baby’s weight upon birth is a classic indicator of overall health. This is not to say that a newborn of average weight is necessarily completely healthy. However, birth weight is certainly an important early parameter to consider when examining the newborn. In general, a baby weighing between 2.5 and 4kg at birth is considered normal. Any baby weighing lesser than 2.5kg is considered underweight. This is not always a cause for serious concern although in absence of the right kind of intensive care there is a grave risk of neonatal mortality.

 

Why Are Some Babies Born Underweight?

One of the main causes of low birth weight is a premature birth. In other words, the baby is born at 37 weeks of gestation or even earlier. Reasons for premature birth can be varied in nature. For instance, twins and triplets often tend to be born premature and underweight. This is normal and entirely acceptable.

In other instances, poor maternal health or lack of adequate nutrition during pregnancy may be responsible. Other times, pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or oligohydramnios may force the medical team to deliver the baby early in order to avoid the possibility of maternal or fetal death.Sometimes a baby will be classified as ‘small for gestational age’ and this may be flagged up during prenatal check-ups. What this means is that the fetus is smaller than others at the same stage of gestational development. Such babies may actually be carried fully to term but their small overall size is responsible for their low birth weight. Some individuals are born small as a result of their genes.

Others may be unable to fully develop in the womb as a result of, for instance, placental problems or the presence of abnormal growths in the uterus.

This is known as intrauterine growth restriction.

Here is a fuller list of possible causes and risk factors for low birth weight:

  • Smoking during pregnancy.
  • Substance abuse during pregnancy.
  • Teenage pregnancy.
  • Multiple pregnancy as in the case of twins or triplets.
  • The baby is small for its gestational age.
  • Genetic abnormalities in the baby.
  • Birth defects.
  • Psychological or emotional stress in the mother.
  • Trauma.
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy.
  • Being underweight or overweight prior to becoming pregnant.
  • The risk is higher among lower-income groups and in developing nations.
  • Women belonging to certain ethnic groups have a higher risk of preterm delivery.
  • An interval of less than six months between consecutive pregnancies.
  • Conception through in-vitro fertilisation.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes or hypertension.
  • Sexually transmitted infections or infections of the lower genital tract.
  • A previous history of premature delivery.
  • A history of multiple miscarriages or abortions.
  • Cervical insufficiency.
  • Reduced blood flow to the uterus or placenta.
  • Abnormalities in the uterus.
  • Problems with amniotic fluid.
  • Problems with the placenta, such as placental abruption.

 

What Problems Can This Cause?

low birth weightMost of the fetus’ organ systems mature during the final few weeks of gestation. Hence, a prematurely born infant is unprepared for life outside of the womb. In fact, the lungs are usually incapable of breathing independently and the baby may not even be able to swallow without external support. In extreme cases, the baby may develop what is known as respiratory distress syndrome.

It is also only during the last few weeks of gestation that the baby’s body develops sufficient fat reserves.

 

Without these, a low birth weight baby is unable to maintain its body temperature at a normal level.

In fact, the main risk of associated with low birth weight and premature birth is that of neonatal death. Without the right kind of support, the baby’s chances of survival could be very poor indeed. It will have to be placed in a temperature controlled environment in a neonatal intensive care unit or an incubator. The environment within the incubator is sterile in order to protect the baby from infections. Low birth weight babies often have poor immunity and, hence, they are more vulnerable to infections. In some cases, such infants develop a severe gastrointestinal disorder known as necrotizing enterocolitis.

As a result of their inability to suckle and swallow normally, they may be slow to gain weight and grow. Sometimes, even with the right kind of treatment, the baby may grow up with some form of physical or learning impairment.

 

How Is Low Birth Weight Diagnosed?

low birth weightBirth weight is determined as soon as the baby is born. Some basic parameters such as length, weight, temperature and gestational age are recorded soon after birth. However, it is also possible to predict low birth weight in advance based on prenatal tests.

Pregnant women should be encouraged to schedule regular check-ups throughout the course of the pregnancy. During these visits, the doctor will examine not only the mother’s health but also that of the baby. Red flags may come upon these occasions and the sooner that they are identified, the better the chances of a favorable outcome.

Poor maternal nutrition and failure to gain weight during pregnancy can indicate a probability of low birth weight in the baby. Ultrasound tests help the doctor to track the progress of the baby and note its development. Using measurements of the head and abdomen, it is possible to estimate the baby’s weight.

The doctor may also be alert to the possibility of premature birth or low birth weight in instances where the mother has developed severe complications or in instances of multiple pregnancies.

 

How Should One Care For A Low Birth Weight Baby?

When a baby is born unusually small, premature or underweight, for whatever reason, it will require being transferred to a neonatal intensive care unitl.Such babies cannot be breastfed or bottle fed normally.Their lungs are not yet adapted to breathing air. They struggle to breathe and to swallow.They will need to be provided with special tubes to deliver fluids and nutrients directly into the body.Oxygen and temperature are controlled within the enclosed incubator so that the baby’s body temperature and breathing remain stable. Medications, fluids, and blood may be delivered through an umbilical catheter.

The baby will normally be kept in an incubator until its condition stabilizes. Generally, this is a matter of a few days. Some may need longer than others.

 

Treatment & Prevention

The most effective way to prevent low birth weight is for the expecting mother to go for regular health check-ups to ensure that both the mother and the baby are healthy. Prenatal vitamins and minerals are essential in ensuring a healthy fetal growth. The most important among these is folic acid, a deficiency of which can lead to low birth weight along with other serious conditions such as neural tube defects in the baby. The expecting mother should refrain strictly from drinking and smoking, especially 3 months prior to conception.  The mother should start prenatal care early on. Existing illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure should be managed effectively. The mother should consume adequate amount of calories required during different stages of pregnancy and indulge in healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

Low birth weight babies are required to spend additional time in the hospital. NICU care which includes temperature controlled beds, special feeding systems, and other sophisticated treatment methods are administered.

Low birth weight may be caused by problems related to fetal health or maternal health. Alternatively, it may be the result of something more benign such as multiple pregnancies. Nowadays, with more and more families opting for fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization, the numbers of multiple pregnancies have gone up significantly. Therefore, despite advances in diagnostic techniques and prenatal care, the incidence of low birth weight remains high even in developing countries. However, with timely intensive care, underweight babies often do grow up into healthy and normal children and adults.

Facts

  • 8% of all babies born in the USA have low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg), 1.4% are born with very low birth weight (less than 1.5 kg).
  • This condition can happen in both full-term and pre-term babies.

Facts

  • Intrauterine growth restriction is a major cause of low birth weight and usually, happens because of poor diet during pregnancy.
  • Mothers who are less than 17 years of age or more than 35 years have high chances of giving birth to low birth weight babies.

Facts

  • The average age at which a woman has a baby is 26.3 years and is expected to rise in the future.
  • Long-term health risks associated with this condition are impaired development, cerebral palsy, and disabilities such as blindness and deafness.

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet during pregnancy.
  • The best nourishment for the baby is breast-milk. A baby adequately fed with breast-milk will gain healthy weight in lesser time.
  • In case of a pre-term baby, who cannot suck milk properly; use a small sterilized cup to feed the baby the breast-milk.
Don'ts
  • Consume tobacco, alcohol, and other toxic substances during pregnancy.
  • Leave the baby at day-care centers or with hired help until they are a bit older.
  • Keep the surrounding temperature low. Such babies are vulnerable to hypothermia.

 

 

 

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Anti-Hepatitis B Core Antigen (AHBc) IgM Anti-hepatitis B core antigen (AHBC) IgM is an investigative procedure to detect the presence of IgM antibodies in…
blood ketone test
Blood Ketone (D3HB) Test The Blood Ketone Test measures and monitors the levels of ketone in the blood which is usually performed…
ureteroscopy
Ureteroscopy Ureteroscopy is the diagnostic procedure which is used for the detection of the kidney stones in addition to…
dance health benefits
5 unbelievable effects of dance on your overall health! You enjoy dancing, but did you know what else it does to your body? Dancing is not only…
apple cider vinegar weight loss
Apple cider vinegar: Weight loss, shinier hair, and more! Did you know that apple cider vinegar, produced by the simple fermentation of apple juice, could hold the…
boost immunity tips
Step up your defence: 15 proven tips on how to boost your immunity Want to naturally build up a stronger immunity? Tired of frequent colds and runny nose?You will never believe…
What to eat, what not to eat in the South Beach Diet? The South Beach Diet is one among the most popular weight loss programs that have been the talk…
Pescatarian Diet 101: What are the inherent health advantages of this diet? People opt to become a pescatarian in order to enrich their bodies with the essential health benefits that…
Is bronchitis contagious? And how to prevent this infection? It is acute bronchitis that is contagious which means you can contract it from another person or you…
shakeology woman
Meal replacement or protein drink? Learn all about Shakeology and its claims Shakeology from Beachbody claims to be the most suitable shake that can aid in weight loss, regulate blood…
Ear pain model
Easy and safe tips for ear wax removal you can do at home Cerumen impaction generally occurs when an external object like cotton swabs are used to remove the ear wax.…
myelogram
Myelography Myelography is an important diagnostic tool that is used to investigate and identify abnormalities in the spine and…
Rubella IgM test
Rubella IgM Test The Rubella IgM test is a blood test that is performed to diagnose the presence of the rubella…
sleep deprivation
Don’t let your sleep deficit grow into memory loss or heart attack Why is sleep important for us? How could sleep deprivation harm you? We bet you didn't know about…
Cordyceps: How the Caterpillar fungus works as a proven cancer-shield Strange as it may sound, but cordyceps or "caterpillar fungus", a fungus variety native to the Himalayas may…
Valerian Root: The best way to achieve tranquil sleep every night Valerian root is probably one of the oldest and safest way to cure your insomnia. Find out how…
How seitan proved to be a blessing in disguise for vegans worldwide Can only meat-eaters enjoy delicious juicy steaks and burgers? With seitan, the best meat substitute available today,even vegans…
Astaxanthin: Why experts believe it could be 550x more potent than vitamin E! What is astaxanthin and why is this new supplement on the block touted as the most powerful antioxidant…
What is the right way to take a pregnancy test? A pregnancy test is undertaken to determine if you have conceived. A home pregnancy test is the most…
PROGESTERONE_test
Progesterone test The progesterone test is a blood test used to determine the level of hormone progesterone in the blood…
lithium test
Lithium test A lithium test is a blood test that is used to diagnose conditions of acute and chronic lithium…
HSV-1_IGG
Herpes Simplex Virus I (HSV)-IgG Test Herpes simplex virus I(HSV)-IgG is an Immunoglobulin protein that acts as an antibody & stays in the blood…
BULIMIA NERVOSA vomiting
Can you get addicted to food? Learn everything about food addiction What is food addiction? How can people get addicted to eating? Is it an unhealthy eating habit or…
hidden causes obesity
8 hidden causes of obesity you probably didn’t know! Did you know that around 2 billion people worldwide are either overweight or obese? Are you too a…
Jicama: A fiber-rich tuber for your weight loss goals Pronouced as HEE-kah-ma, Jicama is the "new kid on the block" that has taken the world by the…
eating disorder anorexia
Eating Disorders: Lifestyle choice or a psychological condition? Is eating disorder just a harmless bad habit? Or does it represent grim psychological disorders? Do you want…
Agave nectar: The bitter truth about this sweetener revealed Agave nectar is considered to be sweeter than the normal table sugar and even contains higher amounts of…
Bromelain: 11 reasons why you should start adding pineapple to your pizza! If you didn't love pineapples already, here are some of the top health benefits that bromelain can bring…
Psyllium Husk: More than just an effective natural laxative Psyllium husk, or isabgol, is a popular natural laxative . But did you in addition to regulating bowels,…
How can berberine supplements help you live longer and healthier? Berberine is a turmeric look-alike herbal extract that is credited with numerous health benefits ranging from diabetes cure…
Tamarind: The top health benefits of this staple Asian ingredient Did you know this sweet and sour pulpy fruit does more than just add a tangy flavor to…
Piaget stages: Do they accurately describe the way the human brain develops?  A common assumption was that children are less competent thinkers as compared to adults, but this was refuted…
GERD heartburn
Heartburn: What are the exact symptoms and the best home remedies? There are easy home remedies for heartburn, which not only acts as a first aid when you experience…
Barium-enema
Barium Enema Barium enema is also known as colon x-ray. Here, the patient is asked to consume small amount of…
Bone marrow aspiration Bone marrow aspiration is a process where a sample of the bone marrow is withdrawn from the bone…
CEA_test
Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) test CEA or carcinoembryonic test detects the presence of CEA antigen in your blood mainly & determines the effectiveness…
cystatin C
Cystatin C Test Cystatin C is a specific single-chain protein that is found in body fluids and is a biomarker for…
Diabetes blood test
Diabetic Profile The diabetic profile is a set of tests used for testing and monitoring the various kinds of Diabetes…
piles,fistula,fissures
Difference between piles, fissures, and fistula Click to know the difference between piles, fistula and fissure and the best ways to get effective treatment…
Tight phimosis ring
Phimosis Read to know everything about phimosis, types, symptoms, treatment, risks and prognosis for patients with this condition.
social media adddiction
Your health in the age of Social Media: Why is digital detox a necessity? Did you know that more than 400 million people are dangerously addicted to social media? Are you one…
nature health benefits
Green Healing: The amazing health benefits of being in nature You have no idea what sitting in a closed room does to your body and mind.Can a stroll…
hidden benefits walking
9 benefits of walking we bet you didn’t know! Did you know walking can be the miracle pill for eternal youth? Everyone knows walking is good for…
quinoa salad
Quinoa : A prodigious superfood you need to include in your diet today! Quinoa - what is so special about this native South American grain that has taken the world by…
DHEA wrinkles
DHEA: Now get unbelievable age defiance with this wonder hormone! DHEA is known popularly as the age-defying hormone. This supplement is widely used to slow down aging and…