Q&A: What are the long-term effects of low birth weight?
I've seen on the news recently that lower birth weights can contribute to shyness, learning delays, and more as children age. Is this really true? If so, why?
Low birth weight can occur for a few different reasons: A baby may be born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or he or she may be considered small for gestational age, referred to as SGA. (A baby who is SGA would weigh less than 5 pounds 8 ounces.) According to the March of Dimes, one in 12 babies in the United States are born low birth weight, and of the low birth weight babies that are born, approximately 67 percent are premature.
The reasons for a baby being born prematurely or SGA are varied, but some may include:
- Preterm labor
- Infection of the mother
- Placental problems with inadequate blood flow
- Genetic disorders
- Poor maternal health
- Use of illicit drugs or excessive alcohol
Depending on the cause of the low birth weight, babies can experience wide and varied physical challenges, which may impact brain growth and development. Beyond the physical problems that these babies can experience, social and cognitive delays may be present. The exact reason for learning delays and social shyness may be linked to the original cause of the low birth weight.
Preventing Low Birth Weight
Moms can make several key choices before and during pregnancy to prevent low weight at her baby’s birth:
- Visit a physician for comprehensive preconception and prenatal care. During these visits, the doctor can screen for and monitor risk factors.
- Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. (We’ve got you covered, both before and during pregnancy.)
- Take prenatal vitamins with folic acid.
- Stop smoking!
- Keep close contact with your doctors to alert them to symptoms of preterm labor.