Babies come in all shapes, sizes, so some are bound to be smaller and some may appear bigger. Therefore, let us dive deeper into the area of care of the preterm and low-birth-weight newborns.
What is a Low Birth Weight?
It’s a term used to describe babies who are born weighing less than 2.500grams or 2.5 kg.
A low weight baby will fall into 3 categories
- Low birth weight (LBW) – an LBW baby weighs less than 2500grams or 5lbs 5oz.
- Very low birth weight (VLBW) – a VLBW baby weighs less than 1500grams or about 3lb.
- Extremely low birth weight (ELBW) – A ELBW baby weighs less than 1000grams or about 2lbs.
Babies with low birth weight look much smaller than other babies of normal birth weight. A low birth weight babies head may appear to be bigger than the rest of the body and s/he may look thin with little body fat.
Causes of Low Birth Weight?
- The primary cause for the low birth weight is premature birth (being born before 37 weeks of gestation). Being born early means baby has spent lesser time in mother’s womb to grow and gain weight. Much of baby weight is gained in the latter weeks of pregnancy.
- Another cause is intrauterine growth restrictions (IGUR). A phenomenon in which the baby doesn’t grow properly in the uterus is due to problems with the placenta, or mother’s health condition. A baby can have IGUR and could be born full term at 37 weeks or beyond may be physically mature but may be weak.
Any baby born prematurely is more likely to be small. However, there are other factors that can contribute to the risk of very low birth weight. These include:
Infections during pregnancy
- Mother and child not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
- Previous pregnancy with low birth weight
- Alcohol & drug use
- Mothers age less than 17 or more than 35 years
- Multiple birth babies
Diagnosis of Low Birth Weight
One of the main reasons of regular pre-natal check-ups is to make sure your baby is growing well and is healthy. Your gynecologist will conduct various physical exams and use imaging technology (ultrasounds) to check on the fetal developments. Using ultrasonic sound waves, the picture of your fetus can be created – measurements of your baby can be taken (head, abdomen and upper leg bone) to estimate the fetal weight.
Complication of Low Birth Weight
A low birth weight baby often has problems. The baby’s tiny body is not as strong as that of a normal birth baby. Therefore, they have a hard time feeding, gaining weight and battling infections. They also find it hard to stay warm as they don’t have much fat on their body.
The low birth weight babies are generally more prone to after birth complications. Some of the common problems seen in low birth babies are:
- Low oxygen levels at birth
- Trouble staying warm
- Low blood sugar levels
- Difficulty feeding and gaining weight
- Recurring infections
- Immature lungs with respiratory problems
- Nervous system problems
- Digestive problems or inflammation of the digestive tract
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Babies with low birth weight are also at more risk for long-term complications like
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delay
Nearly all low birth babies need neonatal intensive care (NICU) until they gain desired weight and are fit enough to go home. Survival of LBW babies largely depends on how much the baby weighs at birth.
Care for Low Birth Weight Baby at Hospital
Specific management for low birth will be managed by your baby doctors based upon:
- Your baby’s gestational age
- Overall health
- Medical history
- Your baby’s tolerance to medications
- Therapies and procedures conducted
Care often includes:
- Care in the neo-natal care unit (NICU)
- Temperature controlled beds
- Special assisted feedings
Special Care for Low Birth Weight Babies at Home
Low birth babies need special attention and that “extra care”. The reason why preterm or low birth babies need extra care is that they have a very less resistance to fight infectious diseases, as their immune system isn’t fully developed yet.
Here are some tips and methods to provide the special care to the low birth weight babies:
Breastfeeding is the best and the most natural way of nourishing your baby. Due to poor suck and swallow coordination and with weak reflexes, you could find it hard to breastfeed your baby. If a baby weighs more than 1.8 kg. You can try to squeeze some milk and wait patiently for baby to suckle breasts.
If direct breastfeeding doesn’t work, cup feeding could be the other option. If a baby is born less than 34 weeks, the suckle reflex isn’t developed and it will be hard for the baby to breastfeed directly. Some breast milk can be squeezed in a sterilized cup and can be fed drop by drop.
If breastfeeding isn’t possible, the formula feeding can be done in consultation with the baby’s doctor
- Keep your baby warm
Hypothermia or the loss of heat is the common sickness in LBW babies, as they have less body fat. Make sure baby is warm during their sleep time and keep them well covered.
Make sure that the head of the baby is covered, the heat loss occurs through the head when left uncovered. Therefore, never undress the baby completely.
- Kangaroo mother care
It involves maintaining direct skin contact with the baby for 24hours a day, like a kangaroo.
The correct way to practice kangaroo care is to hold the baby inclined and upright on the chest of the mother.
As the baby is kept in this kangaroo position it gives effectual warmth and temperature control.
- Avoid visitors
The LBW babies are more prone to respiratory infections like cold, cough & flu which could come along with visitors. Therefore, avoiding visitors can be of great significance. Your baby will not be exposed to infections.
- Regular monitoring
Low birth weight babies need regular monitoring and alternate doctors visits. Speak to your baby’s doctor if u notice any unusual symptoms like:
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin
- Heavy or irregular breathing
- Over sleepy or drowsy
- Not taking feedings
- Low birth babies also need regular monitoring of their height and weight, head circumference and hearing assessment.
- Ensure your baby gets all his vaccines on schedule.
With advancements in medical sciences, the survival rates have increased. But preventing pre-term birth is one of the best ways.
Regular prenatal care is the best option to prevent preterm birth and hence low birth weight babies. It is important:
- To eat a healthy diet during pregnancy. This will help u gain enough weight to help your baby grow and help you stay healthy.
- To not drink alcohol, smoking cigarettes or use drugs. All these can create irreversible damage to you and your baby.
Premature babies generally catch up their “physical” part of the growth with the normal birth weight child. A healthy well-balanced diet will help your child grow steadily.