Low birth weight

Low birth weight

Low birth weight (LBW) is a birth weight that is less than 2.5 kg . Babies born with LBW will look smaller and thinner, and have a head that looks bigger .

LBW can occur when a baby is born prematurely or experiences developmental delays while in the womb. In 2018, around 6.2 percent of babies in Indonesia were born with low weight.

Babies with low birth weight are more susceptible to disease or infection. In the long term, children born with low weight are also at risk of experiencing delays in motor development or learning difficulties.

Causes of Low Birth Weight

Many conditions cause babies to be born with low birth weight. The main cause and the most common is premature birth , namely labor that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation.

Baby growth generally increases rapidly in the final weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, babies who are born early do not have enough time to grow and develop so they tend to have a lower body weight and are small in stature.

In addition, low birth weight also often occurs due to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), which is a condition when the baby does not grow properly while in the womb. This problem can be triggered by problems with the placenta, the mother's health condition, or the baby's health condition.

Risk factors for low birth weight

There are several factors in pregnant women that can increase the risk of having a low birth weight baby, namely:

  • Delivered a baby with low birth weight in a previous pregnancy
  • Suffering from infection during pregnancy
  • Experiencing pregnancy complications, especially those that can cause disruption of the placenta
  • Carrying twins so there is not enough space in the uterus for each fetus
  • Less than 15 years old or more than 35 years old
  • Experiencing malnutrition
  • Smoking or living in an environment with a lot of cigarette smoke
  • Using drugs or consuming alcoholic beverages
  • Experiencing emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety disorders

In addition, certain congenital infections or conditions in the fetus can also increase the risk of babies being born with low birth weight.

Symptoms of Low Birth Weight

Normal baby weight at birth is around 2.5–4.5 kilograms. A baby is declared to have LBW if the birth weight is less than 2.5 kilograms. Meanwhile, babies born weighing less than 1.5 kilograms are declared to have very low birth weight.

In addition to having a lower birth weight than normal babies, LBW babies will also look very small and thinner because they have less body fat. In addition, the baby's head will also look disproportionate because it is bigger than the body.

When to see a doctor

Babies with low birth weight require intensive supervision and care. If the baby is not delivered in a hospital, seek immediate referral to a pediatrician at a hospital, especially one with NICU facilities .

Low Birth Weight Diagnosis

Diagnosis of low birth weight is made by weighing the baby some time after it is born. However, the baby's weight at birth can actually be estimated by obstetricians from the time of pregnancy.

During a routine pregnancy check-up, the doctor will observe the development of the size and weight of the fetus in the womb and then compare it with gestational age. A simple way to do this is to observe the increase in weight and size of the uterus as the pregnancy progresses.

Apart from that, the doctor can also do a pregnancy ultrasound to see the growth and development of the baby in the womb and take pictures of the head, abdomen and upper limb bones to estimate the baby's weight.

Low Birth Weight Treatment

Almost all LBW babies require hospital care. The treatment given will be adjusted to the symptoms, severity of the condition, gestational age, and the baby's overall health condition.

LBW babies with complications, such as immature lungs or intestinal problems, need to be treated in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In this room, the baby will be placed in a bed with an adjusted temperature. The baby's nutritional intake will also be arranged in such a way per day.

New LBW babies are allowed to go home from the hospital if their weight has reached the target or after complications have been overcome and the mother can give breast milk normally.

For mothers of LBW babies, doctors will recommend breastfeeding. This is because breast milk can support the growth, endurance, and weight gain of the baby. If the mother cannot give breast milk, the baby can be given breast milk from a donor .

LBW babies can catch up with their growth over time. However, to ensure that their development goes well, LBW babies need to undergo regular check-ups to the doctor on a regular basis after returning from the hospital.

Complications of Low Birth Weight

LBW babies can experience postnatal complications, especially if the baby is born prematurely. The lower the baby's birth weight, the higher the risk of complications. Complications that can arise due to low birth weight (LBW) include:

  • Low oxygen levels at birth
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature to stay warm at normal temperatures
  • Infection
  • Impaired development of the lungs or other organs
  • Breathing problems, such as infant respiratory distress syndrome
  • Disorders of the nervous system, such as bleeding in the brain
  • Intestinal problems, such as necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Low blood sugar levels ( hypoglycemia )
  • Too many red blood cells that make the blood too thick ( polycythemia )
  • Sudden death or sudden infant death syndrome ( SIDS )

Some LBW babies can also experience developmental delays, blindness, deafness, and cerebral palsy . In adulthood, most LBW babies are more at risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Prevention of Low Birth Weight

As explained above, the main cause of low birth weight (LBW) is premature birth. Therefore, the best way to prevent LBW is to avoid premature birth.

This prevention can be done by undergoing regular pregnancy checks to the obstetrician. In addition, also do the following things to maintain the health condition of the mother and fetus during pregnancy:

  • Eat healthy food so that nutrition for the mother and fetus is always fulfilled
  • Do not consume alcoholic beverages , smoke, or use drugs
  • Keeping intimate organs clean during pregnancy
  • Manage stress well
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