LBW - Low birth Weight in babies, is a common problem that grips many newborns all around the world. Although it is not something that the mother perpetrates, pregnancy practices can affect your baby's weight.
Low birth weight (LBW) in babies is not necessarily alarming, but must be taken care of to avoid unforeseen complications in babies, later in life. LBW babies need proper nutrition to develop fully. However, before taking extreme measures to help them gain weight, it is essential to understand why some babies are born with low birth weight and what exactly LBW is.
What is Low Birth Weight (LBW) in Babies?
A newborn who weighs below 2.5 kg (5 pounds and 8 ounces) is said to have a low birth weight (LBW). The average weight of a newborn baby is around 8 pounds, (3.5 kgs) but in case a baby weighs less, one must pay attention. The most common cause of LBW in babies is ‘premature birth’—when the babies are born before 37 weeks of the gestation period. However, if a baby is born between 37 and 42 weeks, yet weighs less, she is considered to have a low birth weight for a full term.
What causes low birth weight? - Dr. Daksha M Bakre
The causes of low birth weight are:
Poor health of the mother.
Mother’s habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
Exposure to harmful chemicals in pregnancy.
Infections or complications in pregnancy.
Birth defects in the babies.
Causes of Low Birth Weight(LBW
There are many reasons for LBW in babies, but to say that babies who weigh less may always have some problem or health condition would be wrong. Sometimes, babies are just born small without any reason. Here are a few causes of low birth weight in babies to help you get a clear picture of it:
Premature birth: As stated earlier, if a baby is born before completing 37 weeks of the gestation period, she is likely to weigh less, as she could not grow fully in the mother’s uterus. It is towards the final stages of pregnancy when the babies start gaining weight and develop fully. This time is crucial, and if a baby is born preterm, she might have a low birth weight.
Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): IUGR is another common cause of low birth weight in babies. The babies born in this condition are born full term but are small for their gestational age. IUGR babies are also known as growth-restricted babies. These babies are born small but healthy.
Asymmetrical IUGR: These babies are born thin with a normal-sized head but have an asymmetrical liver. This condition arises when the mother is suffering from high BP or malnutrition.
Symmetrical IUGR: Babies born with symmetrical IUGR grow slowly during pregnancy and may have health issues every now and then. This happens because of abnormalities in chromosomes and intrauterine infections. Besides, a mother’s lifestyle is also responsible for this condition. If a pregnant woman drinks too much of alcohol, then she also puts the baby at the risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS can further lead to mental retardation, malformations of the skeletal system organ systems, stunted growth, central nervous system complications, poor motor skills, fatality, and difficulty with learning, memory, social interaction, attention span and problem-solving.
Diabetes: If the mother of a baby is diabetic, the baby might be overweight. But, in some cases, she might be born preterm, hence underweight.
High blood pressure: If the mother has a problem of high BP, it affects the growth of the baby too. The flow of blood from the placenta to the baby is hindered, which results in low weight in babies.
History of LBW: If the mother has had a miscarriage or premature delivery in the past, then the chances of low birth weight delivery in the future are high.
Abnormalities in the uterus: Fibroids are tumours that grow abnormally in a woman’s uterus and hamper the growth of a baby. Uterine malfunctions such as these also result in low birth weight in babies.
Abnormalities of the cervix: If the mother has cervical (the narrow neck-like passage forming the lower end of the uterus.) abnormalities, it can lead to a preterm birth. When a baby grows, it pressurises the cervix to open up which causes the baby to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight.
Placenta-related problems: If the mother has some placenta-related issues, like placenta previa or pre-eclampsia, it can affect the growth of a 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.
Maternal nutrition: If the mother-to-be is underweight during pregnancy, due to malnutrition or an imbalanced diet, it is likely to affect the baby. An unhealthy mother will give birth to an unhealthy baby. A baby depends on its mother’s diet for nutrients to grow fully, but if the mother does not have a balanced diet, the baby will be born with low weight.
Multiple pregnancies: If a woman is having two babies or more, then the babies might not develop fully. There is less space in the womb, and as the babies grow they stretch and have to settle for limited nutrients. This results in certain deficiencies in babies, like low weight.
Infections while pregnancy: The infections that develop during pregnancy, and those that develop by the drugs taken to fight them also impact the growth of the baby.
According to a study that was conducted on women in rural India, if the weight of the mother is very low, or if the mother is found to be anaemic, the child can have a low birth weight.
Low weight babies appear much smaller than the babies with normal weight. Their head looks bigger than rest of their body. They are thin, and fat content in their bodies is very less.
LBW condition can be diagnosed when a doctor conducts prenatal exams. Post 20 weeks of pregnancy, the doctor measures the height of the fundus of the uterus, i.e. the top portion which is measured from the top of the pubic bone. Fundal height, which is measured in centimetres, is equivalent to the number of weeks in pregnancy. If the height for a specific number of weeks is low, the baby is likely to be small.
By getting an ultrasound, a baby’s growth can be estimated. In an ultrasound, pictures of internal organs are taken which help in assessing the condition of low birth weight in babies.
Complications of Low Birth Weight (LBW) in Babies – Effects of LBW
Below are the complications faced by low birth weight babies.
Breathing problems or Respiratory Distress Syndrome(RDS)
Increased risk of infections
Difficulty in feeding the baby
Low blood sugar
Rise in RBC count which results in thick blood.This condition is called Polycythaemia.
Insufficient levels of oxygen at the time of birth
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Apart from this, LBW babies also face behavioural issues and may have a low IQ. Thus, it impacts the overall development of the babies.
Tips to Encourage Weight Gain in Babies
If your newborn has a low birth weight, it’s only natural that you are worried. The statistics for such births can leave you feeling paranoid. However, understand that while maternal health is the reason behind this, it is not something you willingly perpetrated. You want only the best for your baby, and all is not lost. Medical science has advanced considerably in the field of neonatal care, and this is what your baby needs at this time. Stressing about the low birth weight of your baby won’t help, but taking necessary actions to help the child will. Here are few solutions that will help you.
Breastfeed the baby: Adequate breastfeeding will increase the weight of the baby and boost her immune system.
Offer a healthy diet for weight gain: Your baby needs this. Stick with breastfeeding (or baby formula) for at least 6 months. To promote weight gain in babies, feed home-cooked meals and avoid store-bought food.
Go for regular checkups: Make sure you take your baby to the doctor often. Early detection of any complication will help in solving it quickly. Regular checkups will help you understand your baby’s development phenomenon as well.
Keep track of your baby’s growth: As your baby grows, her nutritional needs will develop. Note how the baby is growing. Too much of weight gain can also pose a threat to his/her health.
Give Your Baby Ample Love, Care and Affection: Your baby craves your touch. Skin to skin contact is extremely necessary for a baby’s emotional as well as physical well-being.
Practise Patience: Patience serves when kept! For the healthy growth of your baby, it is necessary that you be patient and follow all the measures as suggested by the doctor.
Low birth weight in babies can be prevented by taking prenatal care at an early stage and by changing your lifestyles, such as quitting smoking and drinking. Taking care of health conditions such as high BP and diabetes at the right time can also prevent babies from developing this condition. Most importantly, proper maternal nutrition is a must to keep LBW at bay.
A healthy diet is indispensable for the proper growth of the baby. From the early stages of pregnancy, a mother-to-be should follow a healthy and nutritious diet. Foods abundant in folic acids, such as fruits and vegetables, and whole grains should be eaten, as they promote weight gain in babies, and keep the mother healthy.
However, if the baby still has a LBW, it can be treated in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).