It’s every parent’s worst nightmare—delivering a baby who is diagnosed with low birth weight. This issue has been gaining more attention in recent years as medical professionals and researchers scramble to find ways to prevent it from happening. We will explore the causes of infant low birth weight and discuss some methods that may help reduce its occurrence.
What Is Low Birth Weight?
Low birth weight is when a baby weighs less than 2,500 grams (about five pounds) at birth. It’s not uncommon for premature babies to have low birth weights because they are born before their bodies fully develop, which means they haven’t accumulated enough fat tissue yet. For most moms-to-be who deliver full-term babies, their infants will weigh between six and eight pounds.
What Are the Causes of Low Birth Weights?
Many factors can contribute to a baby having low birth weight. Some of the most common causes include:
- Premature delivery: A baby is premature if born before 37 weeks’ gestation. Premature babies are more likely to have low birth weights than those born later in the term.
- Congenital disabilities: If a baby has a physical abnormality that affects its growth, it is at risk of low weight during birth.
- Multiple births: Twins, triplets and other multiples are more likely to be born early than singletons. It means that their bodies haven’t had enough time in utero to develop fully, which can lead to a low birth weight diagnosis.
- Smoking during pregnancy: Smoking cigarettes is not only bad for the pregnant mother, but it can also harm her unborn baby. When women smoke while they’re expecting, they increase their chances of delivering early, which puts both mommy and child at greater risk for complications like low birth weight.
- Alcohol consumption during pregnancy: Mothers who drink alcohol heavily during their pregnancies may have infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can cause developmental issues and low birth weights.
- Infections during pregnancy: Infections like HIV, rubella or cytomegalovirus may lead to premature delivery and, therefore, low birth weights for babies because they haven’t had enough time in the womb to develop fully before being born.
- Low maternal weight gain: Women who don’t have enough calories, protein and other nutrients during pregnancy may not gain enough weight for their babies to develop properly before birth, resulting in low birth weights at delivery time (or even stillbirth).
What Are the Complications of Delivering a Baby with Low Birth Weight?
Some common complications associated with prematurity include:
- Low blood sugar: Babies with low birth weights may have trouble maintaining normal glucose levels in their blood after they are born, which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Breathing problems: Because babies with low birth weights are often born prematurely, they are more likely to have respiratory issues that require intensive care after they are born.
- Developmental and cognitive problems: A baby diagnosed with low weight at birth because they were born prematurely may also be at risk for developmental and mental issues, such as learning disabilities.
- Anemia: Babies who suffer from anemia (insufficient red blood cells) while they are in utero and after they are born may also be at an increased risk for low weight during birth.
What Moms-To-Be Should Do to Lower the Risk of Having a Low Birth Weight Baby
- Maintain proper nutrition: When pregnant women have enough calories and protein in their diets, they are less likely to deliver prematurely.
- Quit smoking: You should cut out all sources of nicotine from your diet as soon as possible because it can increase the risk for premature birth and low birth weights.
- Get proper prenatal care: Getting regular checkups is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your unborn baby, as is following your doctor’s recommendations.
- Stay healthy: Although you can’t control everything that happens with your pregnancy, you should aim to be as healthy as possible to give your baby every opportunity at a full-term and healthy birth.
Low birth weights may seem like a death sentence for a baby, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper care and love, low birth weight babies can grow up to live healthy lives as children and adults. The most important thing you can do is follow your doctor’s advice to the letter and hope for the best.