Low Birth Weight in Pregnancy

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What is classed a low birth weight?

Babies born with less than 2,500 g are considered to have low birth weight. Incidence seems to be increasing, caused by more multiple pregnancies due to infertility treatments, where babies are likely to be born earlier and lighter.

Causes of low birth weight

The most common cause of low birth weight is premature delivery before 37 weeks pregnant. Your baby will put on weight during the final weeks in your womb, so being born early reduces that period and your baby is born lighter. If no other complications develop, these babies usually catch their normal weight counterparts and have a normal development.

A second cause for low birth weight baby is intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) which can be a serious condition. This is caused by placental problems or the mother’s poor health and restricts the baby’s development in the womb. A baby can be born full term and still have low weight.

What are the risk factors?

Several factors can increase the risk of low birth weight:

  • Race: Babies of African descent are more likely to be low weight than Caucasians.
  • Age: Very young mothers have a higher risk of low weight babies.
  • Multiple birth babies: More likely to be premature, multiple babies are at higher risk of low weight.
  • Health of the mother: Mothers who consume excessive alcohol and cigarettes, or any recreational drugs during pregnancy can have low birth weight babies. Also poor nutrition and inadequate care can contribute to this condition.

Will my baby be affected?

There is an increased low birth weight risk as a small baby is more at risk of complications, especially if he’s struggling to eat and gain weight. Fighting infections and keeping normal body temperature can be a challenge as they have so little fat. These babies are kept in special units for neonatal care until they gain enough weight to go home. With modern advances in medicine, even babies born with 1,500g have a good chance of survival.

In addition, other complications include low oxygen levels, respiratory problems cause by immature lungs, bleeding in the brain, enterocolitis (a disease of the intestine) and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Can you diagnose before delivery?

The baby’s weight can be estimated by measurements obtained in the ultrasound scans, and if the baby is smaller than expected, a low birth weight baby can be diagnosed. Other estimation, not as accurate, is measuring the height of the fundus which in centimeters corresponds to the weeks of pregnancy. A lower value indicates a small baby.

What’s the care available for my baby?

Treatment usually includes:

  • Neonatal intensive care units
  • Special feeding according to the baby’s abilities. It may include a tube directly into the stomach for very early baby’s that haven’t developed the sucking motion yet.
  • Specific treatments as needed by your baby

The best option is to maintain a healthy life-style and eat a balanced diet. Also, ensure you have a good antenatal care and that your baby’s development is checked regularly.

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