What Are the Implications of Low Birth Weight?

What Are the Implications of Low Birth Weight?

Last update: 05 October, 2017

Low birth weight is quite common among children from all over the world. Various studies suggest possible causes of this problem and seek to identify the major consequences.

Low birth weight is particularly associated with infant mortality. One of the known causes of this condition is premature birth.

A baby is considered underweight when they are born weighing less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces). In some cases this is because they were born ahead of time, and these infants are commonly called premature babies.

In other cases it could result from a stunting of growth inside the maternal womb due to inadequate nutrition or other prenatal problems.

Possible causes of low birth weight

Low birth weight can be caused by both internal and external factors, as well as risk factors related to pregnancyAlthough most cases have to do with the care of the mother during her pregnancy, sometimes it is caused by congenital problems.

Among risk factors for low birth weight, these are some of the main causes:

  • Maternal causes: malnutrition, anemia, drug addiction, alcoholism, tobacco use, high blood pressure
  • Congenital problems: placental abruption, the fetus not getting enough oxygen, insufficient blood flow, infection
  • Inadequate care: improper nutrition, lack of prenatal care, stress
  • Natural causes: the mother being under 17 or over 35 years old

Effects of Low Birth Weight in Newborns

Child born with low birth rate

An underweight baby could have complications: the lower the weight, the higher the risks. First of all, their bodies are not as tough as that of a child with a normal weight. They can have problems with nutrition and breathing. Also, because of not having much fat in their bodies, maintaining their body temperature is difficult.

Below you’ll find a list of some of the main implications of low birth weight:

Respiratory Problems

This is common for infants born before the 34th week of pregnancy. Respiratory distress, as indicated by its name, is a respiratory illness caused by underdeveloped lungs. This is due to the baby not having a protein called “surfactant,” which prevents the air sacs in the lungs from deflating. They may need oxygen or other respiratory treatments in order for their lungs to be able to function.

Neurological Problems

Bleeding in the brain is the main risk on the neurological level. It can affect underweight infants within the first three days of delivery. Most bleeding is minor. However, when very severe, it can cause pressure in the newborn’s brain, causing a buildup of liquid which can result in brain damage.

Gastrointestinal Problems

In this case, a serious intestinal illness is shown to be common in premature babies, necrotizing enterocolitis. This can be very dangerous since it can cause inflammation in the stomach.

Inability to Maintain Body Temperature

child born with low birth rate

As mentioned earlier, underweight infants are not born with enough body fat to maintain an appropriate temperature. This can cause chemical changes in the blood and slow growth.

Retinopathy of Prematurity

This problem affects the blood vessels of the eye. Most cases can be cured without loss of vision or with very little loss. Still, it is necessary to maintain treatment in order not to completely lose vision. This occurs in babies born before the 32nd week.

  • Hepatic immaturity: This is immaturity of the liver, which can cause problems because it doesn’t function properly.
  • Immune System Immaturity: The infant runs the risk of contracting infections, and therefore can have increased complications.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Most newborns born underweight need specialized attention in the neonatal intensive care unit. This can be a serious problem, and so a way must be found for the baby to gain weight.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.