A baby’s weight is one of the first things that is recorded soon after birth. This birth weight becomes the child’s initial reference point to track all future weight gain and loss that help track physical development.
Recently, a new study suggests that birth weight is also related to intelligence throughout life later on. Is there any truth to this? Before we find out, let’s learn more about the causes of low birth weight in babies.
What Does Low Birth Weight Mean?
Low birth weight is a term used to describe babies born with weights lower than 2.5 kilograms. Normally, babies are born with an average weight of 3.6 kg.
There are babies who weigh less than average even though they are small. But take note of the serious problems they might encounter regarding their health.
Research regarding low birth weight says that it contributes to 60 to 80 per cent of neonatal deaths around the globe. In developing countries, it is estimated that 20 million low birth weight babies are born yearly.
Preterm births or delivery before their 37th week in the womb are also rising in numbers. Most premature babies have low birth weight.
Why Does Low Birth Weight Happen?
The main reason for low birth weight is premature birth, or delivery occurring before the 37th week of pregnancy. They did not have much time inside their mother’s womb.
Premature babies have not yet fully grown and gained enough weight. They are still small, weak, and not fully developed.
Another reason could be the intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). This happens when the baby in the womb does not grow as it should be during pregnancy.
IUGR may be connected with problems with the placenta, the mum’s health, or the baby’s.
Two types of IUGR could be:
- Symmetrical – all parts of the body are proportionally small
- Asymmetrical – baby’s head and brain are the right sizes, but the rest of the body parts are smaller than expected
Also, babies with IUGR might be:
- Full-term – babies born from 37-41 weeks of pregnancy. These babies are fully grown, yet are small.
- Premature – these babies are both small and bodily immature
Additionally, these things may affect a woman’s pregnancy, which can also heighten the risks of a low birth weight in the baby:
- Pregnancy-related infection
- Not enough weight gain during pregnancy
- Previous pregnancy with low birth weight baby
- Smoking and alcohol and drug abuse
- Age less than 17 and more than 35
What to Look Out for in Babies With Low Birth Weight?
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Most parents think that having a baby born on time with a relatively small size, or just a bit early, will not be a problem. Well, most low birth weight babies are just fine and have no problems just because they are small.
However, parents should still look out for the following problems related to babies with low birth weight:
Issues with internal organs
Babies born prematurely definitely have complications. These include problems with the brain, heart, lungs, intestines, and others.
Problematic blood sugar levels
Most low birth weight babies have issues regulating their blood sugar levels. Late preterm babies use sugar intake faster than they can replace it. This results in dangerously lower blood sugar.
Problematic temperature regulation
Small babies may have trouble regulating their body temperature and keeping their bodies warm. It is because of a lack of body fats.
If they have problems warming on their own, it is needed for them to stay in the incubator.
Babies with low birth weight are not always capable of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding well. They might need help taking in enough nutrients and calories needed for their growth.
Watch for any complications
While it is uncontrollable to expect your baby’s weight to their health, be cautious of the possible complications. Smaller babies need monitoring more often than normal-weight babies.
Remember, parents. Be extra careful if your low birth weight babies are showing signs of trouble in feeding, keeping warm, or preventing infections.
Studies account that babies with low birth weight are more prone to health issues like vision problems, asthma, and well motor skills and eye coordination.
Low Birth Weight Linked to Lower Intelligence Well Into Adulthood, Says Study
Results from a new longitudinal study from Denmark claim that below-average birth weight is linked to a lower intelligence quotient (IQ) well into adulthood.
Researchers found that the differences in IQ — when comparing underweight babies and their normal counterparts — didn’t change much as they grew up. Even among the babies born within the “normal weight” bracket, newborns who were heavier still had slightly higher IQs as they grew up.
Trine Flensborg-Madsen, the lead study author from the University of Copenhagen, said that they discovered “the association between birth weight and intelligence is stable from young adulthood into midlife.”
According to Flens-borg-Madsen, “There are long-term cognitive consequences of birth weight that do not diminish.”
What the study found
In the study, researchers analysed data from roughly 4,700 babies in Copenhagen between 1959 to 1961. They looked at birth records and their scores from IQ tests which these individuals attempted when they were 19, 28 and 50 years old, too.
They categorised babies by weight, that is:
- weighing below 2.5 kg, or underweight
- between 2.5 kg to 3 kg
- weighing from 3 kg to 3.5 kg, which was considered normal
- between 3.5 kg to 4 kg
- weighing over 4 kg, or overweight
The researchers report in the Journal Pediatrics that birth weight was deeply linked to intellect in their IQ tests conducted at ages 19, 28 and 50.
The link still held true after researchers took into account other things which may affect intellect.
Image Source: iStock
More research is needed, say scientists
However, according to the authors, weighing below average from birth isn’t a good explanation for the link. That’s because the same pattern was also observed in newborn babies who were delivered with healthy weights.
Furthermore, the experiment wasn’t specially formulated to verify if below-average birth weight directly leads to lower IQ scores, or if larger babies are actually more clever.
The study also didn’t take into account many other possible factors that could affect the child’s intelligence, like:
- what their home environment was like
- their mum’s stress levels
- how smart their parents were.
All of these could affect the infants’ IQ scores in the future.
According to Dr Susan Shenkin, a scientist from the University of Edinburgh who wasn’t part of the team, parents need not fret so much at this discovery.
In fact, Shenkin says that many years ago, there was less focus on prenatal care — which could affect how infants in the study grow up: they could have developed differently compared to babies nowadays.
“The brain develops rapidly before birth, and therefore lower birth weight may reflect a poorer environment for brain growth,” says Shenkin. “We still can’t say whether low birth weight ‘causes’ lower cognitive ability test scores.”
Low Birth Weight BabyManagement Tips for New Mums
Parents, we know you’re concerned if your baby has low birth weight. According to Stanford Children’s Health, there are many ways to estimate your child’s birth weight before delivery.
However, after your little one is born, your doctors will weigh them and advise you appropriately. If your little one is severely underweight, additional treatment may be recommended, including:
Tending to them in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU
providing them beds with adjustable temperatures
providing special methods to feed them, such as via a tube directly connected to your little one’s stomach (if they are unable to suck), or by using an intravenous (IV) line
If all goes well, your little one can be discharged. But here comes the hard part: how do you know you’re on the right track? Here are some low birth weight baby management tips to get you started.
Tip #1: How you feed them matters
To breastfeed or give them formula? There are a few things you need to know about both when it comes to birth weight.
Babies feeding on formula are likelier to pack on weight faster than their breastfed counterparts. In fact, it’s possible for formula-fed babies to put on too much weight. After all, formula is more concentrated than breastmilk and parents usually expect their babies to empty the whole bottle.
Dr Jack Newman is well known as a breastfeeding expert and paediatrician. According to him, excessive weight gain is less of a concern for breastfed babies, as they can stop sucking when they’re full (rather than finishing off the bottle). Thus, they can self-regulate the amount of milk they drink.
“I wouldn’t worry about rapid growth in a breastfed baby who is content and healthy,” says Dr Newman.
The Ultimate Guide For Parents About Newborn Baby Weight Loss And Gain
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Tip #2: Check those early diapers as much as you can
During the first three days after being born, your baby will shed dark stools, called meconium. By the third or fourth day though, the stools should be soft and yellow (if breastfed) or darker and firmer (formula-fed).
If you don’t notice these changes, experts say that your little one might not be getting enough milk.
Another red flag for inadequate milk is that your little one isn’t wetting his nappies enough each day. Generally, two-day-old newborn babies will produce two to three wet diapers a day. However, by the time they become seven days old, they should be producing about six to eight wet diapers.
If you’re concerned because your baby hasn’t been wetting his nappies enough, or if you do find something wrong with his stools, please consult your paediatrician immediately.
How to Prevent Your Low Birth Weight in Newborns
It is still possible that more babies can survive the issues and complications of having low birth weight. In the present times, we now have advances in the health care of mothers and babies alike, specifically, care techniques for sick and premature babies.
Hence, preventing premature birth is one of the most efficient ways to prevent your baby’s low birth weight.
Regular prenatal care is a must. It is the best practice to prevent premature birth and low birth weight babies.
During your prenatal visits
, ask and demand your health care provider to give you advice and check your health status and your baby’s.
Remember, it is important that you:
Follow a healthy pregnancy diet
Eating a balanced and healthy pregnancy diet helps you gain weight and make you stay healthy. This also makes sure you get enough nutrients
that help the growth of your baby inside your womb.
No drinking of alcohol, smoking cigarettes or taking any prohibited drugs
These activities can drastically affect your health, and even your baby’s development and may result in many complications during and after birth.
Moreover, to avoid giving birth to a baby with low birth weight, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor for advice.
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