Low Birth Weight in Babies: Causes, Treatment & Care

Low Birth Weight in Babies

As soon as you come to know of your pregnancy, all your efforts are directed towards the well-being of your unborn baby. Even though you take good care, sometimes some health complications may arise, and one such complication could be low birth weight.

Video : Low Birth Weight in Babies – Causes and Effects

What is Considered a Low Birth Weight in a Baby?

An average baby weighs around 5 to 6 pounds (2.5 to 3 kgs). But if a baby born between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy weighs around 4 pounds (2 kgs) or less, then he is considered to have a low birth weight. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), any baby who is born weighing lesser than 2 kgs at birth, irrespective of gestational age, is low birth weight baby.

In case a baby is born weighing less than 2000 grams, he will be given special neonatal care and may have to stay in the hospital for a few weeks or until he is strong enough to go home.

How Can You Differentiate a Low Birth Weight Baby From a Premature Baby?

The characteristics of a low birth weight baby and a premature baby are not the same. A baby who is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy or even earlier is termed a premature baby. In other words, premature babies do not stay for the full duration of gestation inside their mother’s womb.

Low birth weight babies can be born premature or full-term, and weigh less than 2.5 kgs at birth. Low birth weight babies are also called SFD or ‘small for date’.

What Causes Low Birth Weight in Babies?

To say that the babies who weigh less may always have some problem or condition would be wrong. Sometimes, babies are just born small without any reason. However, there could be several reasons why a baby may be born with low birth weight. Here are a few causes of low birth weight in babies to help you get a clear picture of it:

1. Multiple Babies

If the mother-to-be is carrying more than one baby, there are chances that the babies will be born with low birth weight. This may happen because the babies might not develop fully because of less space in the womb. As babies grow, the uterus will be stretched and that might put extra pressure on the mother’s uterus. Their nutritional requirements may also not be met completely, which may affect their weight.

2. Premature Birth

If a baby is born before completion of 37 weeks of the gestation period, he is likely to weigh less. It is towards the final stages of pregnancy that babies start gaining weight and develop fully. This time is crucial, and if a baby is born preterm, he might have low birth weight.

3. Problems in the Placenta

Placenta-related problems during pregnancy such as placenta previa or preeclampsia may hamper the supply of nutrition and blood flow to the foetus, which can affect the growth of the baby. In these conditions, the flow of the blood to the baby is reduced and the lack of adequate oxygen and nutrition causes low birth weight in babies.

4. Hypertension

Hypertension or high blood pressure can cause complications during pregnancy that may prove to be fatal to the foetus. It may affect the flow of blood and absorption of vital nutrients by the foetus, leading to the baby being born with low birth weight.

Low birth weight in babies

5. Abnormalities of the Uterus

Sometimes certain abnormalities in the uterus may be the reason for your baby’s restricted growth. Uterine malfunctions, fibroids or other such conditions may fiddle with the baby’s proper growth and may result in his low birth weight.

6. Substance Abuse by the Mother

If the mother-to-be takes restricted drugs or alcohol or smokes during pregnancy, it may lead to a disrupted supply of oxygen to the foetus and may result in a low birth weight infant.

7. Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)

Sometimes due to IUGR, a condition of delayed growth of the foetus while in the womb, the baby may be born with low birth weight. In most cases, he may be healthy if the LBW is due to genetic conditions. There are two types of IUGR – Asymmetric and Symmetric IUGR. Issues with the placenta, malnutrition faced by the mother, infections, high blood pressure etc., are the causes for IUGR.

8. Infections

It is very common for a pregnant woman to catch various kinds of infections during pregnancy and the medicines that may be used to treat these infections may adversely affect the growth of the foetus, which may lead to low birth weight in her baby.

Low birth weight in babies

9. Diabetes

If a mother has diabetes, the chances of delivering a bigger baby than usual are more. However, in some cases, the baby may be born with low birth weight.

10. Cervical Abnormalities

If a mother has problems in her cervix, it may lead to premature delivery and thus, may lead to giving birth to a baby with low birth weight. In such a case, the doctor may recommend a stitch or cerclage in your cervix.

11. Prior History of Low Birth Weight

In case you have had a low birth weight or premature baby previously, it may increase your chances of facing the same issue in your subsequent pregnancies as well.

12. Lack of Nutrition to the Mother

If the mother does not consume a well-balanced and nutritious diet during pregnancy, it may affect her unborn baby’s growth and development and may lead to low birth weight too.

Low birth weight in babies

What Are the Effects of Low Birth Weight on the Child’s Development?

Risks faced by low birth weight babies, especially preterm LBW babies may suffer in the long run. Below are the complications faced by low birth weight babies.

  • It increases the chances of contracting infections.
  • It may lead to inadequate oxygen levels at birth.
  • There may be too many red blood cells formed to compensate for low oxygen levels in the womb.
  • It may cause breathing difficulties in babies.
  • It may lead to low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia.
  • It may hamper your baby’s ability to keep himself warm.
  • It may cause feeding difficulties and weight gain issues in babies.
  • It may lead to sudden infant death syndrome.

How is Low Birth Weight Diagnosed During Pregnancy?

Your doctor may adopt the following diagnosing techniques to assess whether or not your baby is a low birth weight baby:

1. Measuring the Fundus

After you enter the 20th week of your pregnancy, your doctor will measure the fundus of your uterus. The measurement of the fundus in centimetres helps in establishing the pregnancy in weeks. The height of the fundus should be corresponding to the number of weeks of your pregnancy; at 22 weeks, the height should be around 22 cm. In case the height of the fundus is low, it may lead to low birth weight babies.

2. An Ultrasound Scan

An ultrasound scan involves taking pictures of your baby’s internal structure such as his head, femur bones, abdomen etc. Though this method is not a primary method of screening, it helps in analysing the low birth infants.

Low birth weight in babies

How Can You Lower the Risk of Having a Low Birth Weight Infant?

Here are some things that you as a mother can do to lower the risk of low birth weight in the newborn:

  1. Prenatal Care: Pay heed to prenatal care and address all health concerns with optimum discretion.
  2. Pregnancy Weight Gain and Diet: Follow a well-balanced and nutritious diet and keep a tab on your weight gain.
  3. Changes in Lifestyle: In case you used to smoke or consume alcohol before pregnancy, it is strictly recommended to refrain from all these things during pregnancy.
  4. Keep a Check on Your Health Conditions: If you are suffering from any health complications such as diabetes or hypertension, keep it under control.

How to Treat Low Birth Weight in Infants

The treatment may depend upon the gestational age of the baby, the overall health of the baby, the baby’s tolerance towards certain medicines and other such factors. Here are some ways of treating low birth weight in infants:

  • The baby may be fed through an IV or through a tube into his stomach, in case he is not able to suckle.
  • The baby may be kept in temperature-controlled beds.
  • The baby will be kept in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for a few days.

Tips to Help Your Baby Overcome Low Birth Weight

Here are some tips to help your baby overcome low birth weight:

  • Regular Check-Ups: If your baby is born with low birth weight, then it is important that you take him for regular check-ups to keep a tab on his developmental milestones, and also maintain a low birth weight baby growth chart.
  • Practise Breastfeeding: The best way to take care of a low birth weight baby at home is to practise breastfeeding. Breast milk is ideal for a newborn baby as it provides all the nutrition needed. The best you can do is to breastfeed him as often as possible to ensure that he gains weight the right way.
  • Introduce Solid Foods: In order to help your baby’s development and growth, you should add solid foods after the age of six months. However, in case your doctor advises you to introduce solid foods before that, you may do so.
  • Be Patient: It is very normal for any mother to feel worried when the matter concerns her child’s health and well-being. But maintaining patience is very important so that you are able to help your baby gain weight in a healthy way.

Low birth weight in babies

Even if your baby is a low birth weight baby, with proper medical care, your baby can achieve all of his developmental milestones and grow into a healthy baby. But if your baby does not gain weight, after trying the above remedies, you can check with your baby’s paediatrician. He/she will guide you the best!

Also Read: Weight Gain in Newborn Babies

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