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Prematurity and consequences of low birth weight and baby development

Prematurity And Consequences Of Low Birth Weight On Baby Development

Premature baby in the UK :

A premature birth is a birth that takes place more than three weeks before the baby's estimated due date. In other words, a premature birth is one that occurs before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy. Premature babies, especially those born very early, often have complicated medical problems. Typically, complications of prematurity vary. But the earlier your baby is born, the higher the risk of complications.

Depending on how early a baby is born, he or she may be:

· Late preterm, born between 34 and 36 completed weeks of pregnancy

· Moderately preterm, born between 32 and 34 weeks of pregnancy

· Very preterm, born at less than 32 weeks of pregnancy

· Extremely preterm, born at or before 25 weeks of pregnancy

A low-birth-weight baby, by contrast, will weigh less than 5-pounds, 8 ounces which to put it another way, is 2,500 grams. Low birth weight or small babies can still be healthy, but there is a higher risk of developing serious health issues as a consequence of prematurity.

Most premature births occur in the late preterm stage.

Common Causes Of Low Birth Weight

We most commonly associate low birth weight with premature birth, that is being for too early, so before the usual term of 37 weeks. A premature baby does not have as much time within the uterus to gain weight, and that's an important point to make as a significant amount of the weight that a baby gains is in fact during those final weeks of pregnancy.

Another cause of low birth weight is a condition known as intrauterine growth restriction IUGR) which can occur when the baby is unwell during pregnancy. This may be linked to the mother's health, the baby's health or indeed problems with the placenta. Babies with IUGR can be born at full term, and while they are physically mature, they are much smaller than the norm.

Besides premature and IUGR births, pregnant women are more at risk of giving birth to low weight babies because of several other external factors, including the following:

• Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy

• Previous low-birth baby weight

• Infection during pregnancy

• Smoking, alcohol or drug abuse

• Mother aged either under 17 or over 35 years of age

Low birth weight babies are likely to be much smaller than babies of normal birth weight, possibly with larger looking heads as compared to the rest of their bodies and displaying very minimal body fat.

Diagnosing Low Birth Weight

Regular prenatal examinations are carried out during the term of your pregnancy amongst other things, track and monitor a baby's weight. Your own steady weight gain is an indication of the growth of your baby, but another standard method deployed is known as "fundal height". Fundal height measures the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus (also known as the fungus). The fundal height is measured in centimetres and as a general rule of thumb, should be about the same as the number of week of pregnancy, following your 20th week. So, for example, at a gestation of 26 weeks, your fundal height should be close to 26 cm.

Ultrasounds are also commonly used to check for on-going foetal growth and development.

At birth, babies are weighed within the first few hours to determine their weight against the gestational age:

• less than 2500 grams is considered a low birth weight

• less than 1500 grams is considered a very low birth weight

• less than 1000 grams is considered an extremely low birth weight

Treating Low Birth Weight

The primary cause is premature birth, being born before 37 weeks gestation; a baby born early has less time in the mother's uterus to grow and gain weight, and much of a fetus's weight is gained during the latter part of the mother's pregnancy.

Another cause of low birthweight is intrauterine growth restriction. This occurs when a baby does not grow well in utero because of problems with the placenta, the mother's health or birth defects. Babies with Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) may be born early or full-term; premature babies with IUGR may be very small and physically immature, and full-term babies with IUGR may be physically mature but weak.

Any baby born prematurely is more likely to be small. However, there are other factors that can also contribute to the risk of low birthweight.

Depending upon the severity of the symptoms, the child's age and also general health will determine how low birth weight is initially treated. It might include a stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, sleeping in a temperature-controlled bed or social feeding, sometimes through a tube in the stomach or an IV line if the baby is unable to suck.

Low birth weight babies do generally catch up and go on to have happy, healthy lives without any further complications; however, they may need to follow special healthcare programs to ensure satisfactory development.

Possible Consequences Of Low Birth Weight

A tiny baby's body is not as robust as that of a normal birth weight baby which in itself can lead to initial complications. Low birth babies may struggle to eat, gain weight and fight infections, plus, because of the lack of fat they are carrying, they may also struggle to stay warm.

Babies who are born prematurely frequently experience a range of complications, but it's not known whether that is because they are smaller or because they were born earlier. Some of the most common consequences and side effects of low birth weight include:

• low oxygen levels at birth

• trouble feeding and gaining weight

• increased infections

• trouble staying warm

• breathing problems and infant respiratory distress syndrome

• digestive problems including inflammation of the intestines

• higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

In the longer term, low birth weight babies also run the risk of increased development of more severe complications, including:

• developmental delay

• deafness or blindness

• cerebral palsy

Final Thoughts On Prematurity And Low Birth Weight

Such is the advancement of science and medical technology that more low birth weight babies than ever before go on to survive happy and healthy lives. However, working together to prevent preterm babies is still the best way of tackling the issues and consequences associated with low birth weight. Regular prenatal care is a must, as is following a healthy and balanced diet throughout your pregnancy to help you gain the weight you need to help your baby grow.

Written by Mathilde Allemand

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