Low birth weight is common across the globe but its percentage is higher in developing countries. India alone witnesses 7.5 million low birth weight babies every year! The worrying aspect here is that the birth weight of a baby is the first and direct indicator of his health status. Aside from birth weight, the amount of weight your baby gains as he grows is another crucial indicator of his development. This is because low weight complicates how your baby's tiny and fragile body is able to cope with the outside environment. He may face difficulties in building an immune system and even staying warm at room temperature, which might culminate into breathing problems, feeding problems, infections, or low blood sugar in future.
According to doctors, a normal weight gain range for babies is about 30-40 gms per day in the first 3 months of birth. At 3-6 months, this rate slows down to an average of 20 gms per day. This rate will certainly differ for different babies. It will also be different if your baby was born with low birth weight or was born premature. However, if your baby is nowhere close to these figures it is best to understand if there could be an underlying cause you are overlooking.
Reasons for Slow Weight Gain in Babies
Here is a list of reasons, some of them rather surprising and easy to overlook, which could be slowing your baby's rate of weight gain
He is not getting enough milk even though he seems well-fed
Breastmilk is the elixir of life for a newborn. It triggers growth and development more efficiently than anything else. While full-term newborns typically need about 1.5 – 2 ounces of breast/formula milk every three hours, premature babies need more.
Does your baby have trouble latching on? This may be the reason she is getting insufficient milk.
Do you use only one breast per feed? Doctors recommend switch the baby between both the breasts to ensure adequate supply per feed.
Does your baby give subtle signals of not being full?Babies who do not get enough milk may appear tense. Usually they bend their arms at the elbow and hold them close to the body. The baby may also fall asleep with a frown on her face. A baby who is satiated will usually fall asleep and let go of the breast on his own. Her hands will be relaxed and she will look satisfied.
Watch: Effath Yasmin, International Board Certified lactation consultant, shares how you can find out if your baby is getting enough milk. There are some simple signs to find this out.
He is facing problems with digestion
Your baby may have acid reflux problems or may be prone to vomiting after feeds. This may have put her off feeding. Some children even have trouble staying awake for feeds or may find it difficult to swallow. These may be reasons why a baby may not gain any weight. Further, some children may consume enough calories but still have trouble gaining weight! These babies are more likely to have trouble absorbing the food into their system due to food allergies or diarrhoea.
He was born premature or with low birth weight
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines low birth weight as weight at birth which is less than 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds). Anything between 2,500g to 4,200g is considered as normal weight for a baby; the average weight for a newborn baby is approximately 3,400g (7.5 pounds). Statistics also suggest that infants weighing less than 2,500g are 20 times more likely to face survival odds than heavier babies. While the causes of low birth weight are hard to determine for certain, your health and bodily factors could play a role.(See list below for complete set of reasons of low birth weight)*These babies usually struggle to gain weight in their early years, but catch up eventually.
He is using up the calories too fast
Odd as it seems, there are also some babies who need more calories as they use up existing ones very quickly. So, you may think they are well fed and satisfied but actually they will need to be fed more often. These are usually children who need to work harder to breathe, ones that were born early, or ones that have certain heart conditions. If you suspect this could be the case with your baby, you should consult the doctor immediately.
Their low weight is leading to further low weight - a vicious cycle!
This one is tricky. Underweight babies are obviously very low on energy and can become lethargic. But this sleepiness in turn makes them less interested in feeding! So, they may actually be hungry but will quickly fall asleep while feeding. This irregular pattern also causes the mother's milk supply to drop, which makes it a vicious cycle of weight problems.
He is facing a silent health issue that hasn't been diagnosed yet
Finally, some underlying health issues could also be the reason why your baby isn't gaining weight. These issues include milk allergies, anaemia, low/high muscle tone, breathing problems, cardiac issues or even neurological issues. Your paediatrician will be able to diagnose and start treatment for this problem.
What Causes Low Birth Weight
In the past few decades, low birth weights among infants have increased drastically owing to a number of factors, despite the availability of advanced medical treatment. Some of the possible causes are listed below:
Premature birth: Preterm infants or premature infants are born prior to 37 weeks after conception. Since these babies are not fully developed inside the womb, they might have difficulty in breathing as well as have other illness to fight against.
Small-for-gestational-age infants: This is also a reason for low birth weight since the foetal growth is delayed, and hence, incomplete.
Also Read: My Friend's Baby Was Born With Low Birth Weight. And No, It Wasn't Her Fault!
Difficultiesin the mother’s reproductive system
Multiple babies:This might lead to early labour or not enough nutrients for both of the babies.
Immature reproductive system of the mother
Second child conceived within 6 months of the delivery of the first
The father’s age: If the father is much older than the mother, she may go into labor before her due date, increasing the likelihood of low birth weight.
Health and lifestyle reasons:Alcohol and tobacco also adversely affect the health of the mother and the baby. Not getting proper nutrition or medical care or being overly stressed during pregnancy could increase the likelihood of low birth weight
How You Can Boost Weight Gain in Your Baby
Breastfeed more often:
Experts suggest that as far as possible, this should be initiated as early as you can, with the baby being fed every two hours. Breast milk provides all the needed nutrients for weight gain as well as building immunity. You should continue doing this for as long as possible to boost your baby's weight gain.
Secret Tip: Based on the first-hand experience of moms struggling with low-weight in their babies, there is something you can change about breastfeeding to boost weight gain even more. Just make sure you feed for a sufficient duration of time from one breast, so the breast gets empty. This will mean hindmilk will come out (this refers to milk that comes out at the end of a feeding) and it has a HIGHER FAT content than foremilk!
Read More In This Mom's Story of How She Helped Her Newborn Baby Gain Weight!
Keep them warm:
If your baby was born premature, he will find it hard to regulate his body temperature, and hence, easily get cold inviting pathogens. This will lead to health problems and stop him from putting on the adequate amount of weight. Add extra blankets to cover him and press him close to your body to generate heat. The head of the baby should be well covered. If you find it difficult to regulate his temperature, or he displays signs of a breathing problem, consult your doctor at once.
Ensure healthy eating:
Once the baby starts growing, you must keep a regular check on her weight and eating habits. Every minor ailment should be dealt with extra care as it can become a roadblock in the way of gaining healthy weight. Take regular appointments with the doctor to check the baby’s weight, height and get a general check-up. If your baby has been introduced to solids and semi-solids, feed foods like sweet potato and banana for weight gain. Check this full guide to get a list of healthy foods that promote weight gain in babies.
Help them sleep undisturbed:
If your baby doesn't sleep peacefully, or doesn't get the adequate amount of sleep during the day and night, this can interfere with his weight gain. Babies face sleeping problems when they are too hot or too cold at night, have a soiled diaper, or are facing feelings of fear or lack of attention. It is also possible that they could be waking up too frequently. Try giving your baby a bath before bed-time to promote more comfortable sleep. Ensure that the baby gets some physical activity during the day, such as tummy time. You can also use some of these tips to solve your baby's sleeping problems and restore his health.
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Though some babies face problems in gaining weight early in life, they eventually develop normally. You just need to monitor his health carefully, get regular check-up done by the doctor, and embrace your little one in your love and care. He will soon surprise you with a healthy and rosy glow in his cheeks!