Low birth weight is a term used to describe babies who are born weighing less than 2.5 kgs. Babies with low birth weight look much smaller than other babies of normal birth weight.
A low birth weight baby’s head may appear to be bigger than the rest of the body, and he or she often looks thin with little body fat.
Causes of low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Having a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets or more)
- A problem with the placenta
- An infection in the womb
- The mother having a chronic health condition, such as high blood pressure or kidney disease
- The mother taking certain medicines to treat conditions such as epilepsy and blood clots
- The mother not gaining enough weight or not maintaining her weight throughout the pregnancy
- A previous pregnancy that resulted in the baby having a low birth weight
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs
- Exposure to air pollution or lead
- The baby having a congenital disorder
How low birth weight affects your baby
1. Issues with internal organ function
Babies born underweight may have complications that include problems with the function of their brain, heart, lungs, intestines etc. Such problems include
- Breathing problems and immature lungs (infant respiratory distress syndrome)
- Nervous system problems, such as bleeding inside the brain (intraventricular hemorrhage)
- Digestive problems, such as serious inflammation of the intestines (necrotizing enterocolitis)
2. Problems with blood sugar
Very small babies may have trouble regulating their blood sugar. Late preterm babies sometimes use sugar faster than they can replace it, and can easily develop dangerously low blood sugars.
3. Problems staying warm
Small babies don’t have enough fat to keep them warm. If they can’t stay warm on their own, they may have to spend time in an incubator.
4. Trouble eating and gaining weight
Smaller babies aren’t always strong enough to breastfeed or bottle-feed well, and may need help taking in enough calories to grow. Sometimes these are given through a tube into the stomach if a baby cannot suck or they are given through an IV (intravenous) line.
5. Trouble fighting infections
Due to an under- developed immune system, low birth weight babies are typically more vulnerable to infections
The lack of antibodies and immunity in their immune system means they can’t fight off bacteria, viruses or fungi in the same way that full-term or normal weight babies may be able to.
6. Long term complications and disability
Babies with very low birth weight are at risk for long-term complications and disability. Long-term complications may include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delay
7. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death or crib death, is the sudden unexplained death of a child of less than one year of age. SIDS usually occurs during sleep and babies born underweight are at a higher risk.
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