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.

 

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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Phenytoin test Phenytoin is a drug that is administered mainly to epilepsy patients. The phenytoin blood test measures the level…
elements 22 test
Element 22 test (Nutrients & Toxicity) The element 22 test is used for measuring and monitoring the levels of heavy metals and some nutrients…
Medical conditions yoga can help with Yoga practitioners have outlined several health benefits of yoga and a daily yoga regimen can help in treating…
Medical conditions yoga can help with Yoga practitioners have outlined several health benefits of yoga and a daily yoga regimen can help in treating…
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…
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 Kegels help you overcome weak pelvic muscles & incontinence? Kegel exercises are pelvic floor strengthening exercises that can help you overcome incontinence issues that rise out of…
Goji berry: A traditional Chinese berry that packs the best of antioxidants Goji berry is an ancient berry that is considered to be power-packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Which means…
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…
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…
Erythritol: A healthy sugar substitute or yet another marketing ploy? Erythritol is a popular choice of a healthy alternative sweetening agent in foods. But how healthy can a…
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…
Gua sha: Scraping away layers of pain with this ancient healing tool Gua sha is an ancient oriental healing method which focuses on scraping the body with specific tools to…
SIBO Diet: The important dos and don’ts of this gut-healing diet A SIBO diet is a diet that works by eliminating certain sugars from your diet and adding fibers…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
Okra: How can this nutrient-dense vegetable help you fight diabetes? Okra is a food which is rich in nutrients and minerals which are extremely essential for a healthy…
shiitake mushrooms healthy
What are Shiitake Mushrooms and why should you eat them? Shiitake Mushrooms are well known for their smoky and robust taste. However, did you know they are replete…
woman with abdominal pain holding ovulation calendar
Ovulation – facts to know about ovulation Learn how and when ovulation occurs, demystify common misconceptions, identify symptoms, methods of detection and right period for…
alcohol toxic
7 startling facts that will make you quit alcohol today Does drinking really make you friendly and happy? How many calories does a can of cold beer add…
sugar toxic health
Sugar: 7 new shocking truths revealed about the sweet poison Can drinking soda bring you closer to death? Is sugar slowly poisoning you and your family? You would…
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…
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…
Vagus nerve: 7 health benefits of stimulating the “gut-brain” connection As a matter of fact, there are two vagus nerves namely the left and the right but is…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
How to scrub away stress and fatigue with an Epsom salt bath? Epsom salt is a popular home remedy for many skin ailments. Though there is a lack of scientific…
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…
CERULOPLASMIN- triple marker
Triple Marker Test A triple marker test is an important prenatal test that is performed to detect the presence of chromosomal…
malarial antigen test
Malaria Antigen Test A malaria antigen test is a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) that can detect malarial antigens (proteins) in your…
apolipoprotein a1 test
Apolipoprotein -A1 (APO-A1) Test Apolipoprotein A-I (Apo-A1) constitutes 70% of protein content in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and helps in lipid metabolism.
piles fissure fistula
Allopathy vs homeopathy vs ayurveda treatment for piles, fissures, and fistula Read to know the best form of treatment among allopathy, homeopathy,or ayurveda for piles, fissures, and fistula
improve digestion weight loss
Power up your gut: 8 proven steps on how to improve your digestion Did you know you have a colony of bacteria in your gut that help you in digesting food?…
10 reasons why you should up your selenium intake Selenium, though a trace mineral, is very much integral to your health. Find out how much selenium intake…
waterchestnut
Water Chestnuts: The tastiest ways to include this healthy tuber in your diet Water chestnut is not a nut after all. It is a tuber (much like the potatoes) growing close…
Urologist: When should you visit one and why? A urologist can treat not only genitourinary problems of both men and women but also can treat various…
hemoglobin variant analysis
Hemoglobin Variant Analysis Hemoglobin variant analysis is a blood test that is used to detect the presence of hemoglobin variants which…
valproic acid test
Valproic Acid Test Valproic acid test is performed to generally check for psychiatric and even neurological conditions such as bipolar disease…
fructosamine test
Fructosamine Test A fructosamine test measures blood sugar glucose content. Fructosamine level can indicate blood sugar level in past 2-3…
anoscopy
Anoscopy Anoscopy is an invasive diagnostic procedure where a small device known as anoscope will be inserted in the…
thyroxine t4 test
T4 (Thyroxine) Hormone Test The T4 or thyroxine blood test is an important diagnostic tool that gives a clear picture of how…
antiHEV IgM test
Anti hepatitis E virus (Anti HEV) IgM Test Anti HEV IgM test determines the level of the IgM antibodies in the blood, The disease is often…
Moringa drink
Moringa: This could be the most nutrient-dense food known to us! Moringa is a lush green tree brimming with over 90 essential nutrients required for a healthy mind and…
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…
Cayenne: The remarkable benefits of these red hot chili peppers These may make you rush for a glass of water, but cayenne pepper is actually a healthy additive…
Exercises or diet? Find out the healthiest way to gain weight Tired of being called skinny all the time? Looking for healthy ways to beef up? Why not try…
The right way to prepare Alfalfa sprouts at home Alfalfa or lusan ghas is not just a nutritious animal fodder. This flavonoid-rich herb has some amazing health…
Carb Cycling: Weighing the pros vs the cons of this diet routine Completely discarding carbs from your life will do you more harm than good. Read more about carb cycling,…
biopsy procedure
Biopsy Biopsy is a procedure of studying a live tissue sample collected from a specific organ for diagnosing a…
lipase test
Lipase Test A lipase test is a blood test performed to quantitatively measure the level of the enzyme lipase 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…
Rheumatoid Arthritis xray
Arthritis Profile Arthritis profile is a panel of primarily blood tests used to detect the presence of arthritis or check…
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…
lose weight fast
12 easy and instant steps to successful weight loss Do you want to lose weight without losing your mind? Does weight loss always mean saying goodbye to…
acne removal tips
Anatomy of acne: 7 instant steps to kiss those zits goodbye Blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples-call them what you may. Acne is never good news.Did you know some of the…
L-theanine attention
L-Theanine: Better sleep, higher focus, and many other benefits Did you know that L-theanine found in green tea can make you sleep better and be focused at…
High Fiber Diet – Fire up your fiber intake for these health benefits! Regular bowels, healthy detox, higher immunity, and guaranteed weight loss - a high fiber diet can bring all…
avocado benefits
Avocado: 15 reasons why this fruit should be a staple in your diet Did you know that the word avocado literally means "testicles". Don't get grossed out as this power-packed fruit…

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