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According to Experts, 80% of Newborns Who Die Yearly Weigh Less Than 5.5 Pounds
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that too many babies are born too small, in a press release published on May 16, 2019.

    According to a new research paper developed by experts from the WHO, UNICEF, and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine which was published in The Lancet Global Health, a staggering 80% of 2.5 million newborns who die annually are of low birth weight. Those who do survive demonstrate a higher risk of “stunting, and developmental and physical ill health later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

    Dr. Mercedes de Onis of the WHO’s Department of Nutrition, who served as co-author of the research paper, says, “Low birth weight is a complex clinical entity composed of intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth.”

    De Onis says that working toward decreasing the incidence of low birth weight requires understanding the different causes that can contribute to its occurrence, which can vary in various parts of the world.

    For instance, she points out that in South Asia, a majority of low birth weight babies “are born at term but with intrauterine growth restriction, which is associated with maternal undernutrition, including maternal stunting.”

    Meanwhile, in areas such as the United States of America and Brazil, where there are many instances of adolescent pregnancies, infections, and pregnancies associated with fertility treatments and cesarean sections, preterm birth is considered a major contributor to low birth weight.

    “Understanding and tackling these underlying causes in high-burden countries should be a priority,” de Onis says.

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    What is low birth weight?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), low birth weight occurs when a baby is born weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2500 grams). These infants are more at risk for developing many health issues — they might become sick within their first six days of life or develop infections, or might suffer from more long-term problems like delays in their motor and social development or learning disabilities.

    Here are just some of the most common health problems low birth weight babies experience, according to Stanford Children’s Health:

    • Low oxygen levels at birth
    • Breathing problems (e.g., infant respiratory distress syndrome, which is caused by immature lungs)
    • Neurologic problems (e.g., intraventricular hemorrhage, or bleeding inside the brain)
    • Difficulty in feeding and gaining weight
    • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

    Aside from preterm birth and intrauterine growth restriction, there are other factors that can contribute to the possibility of low birth weight. The CDC lists down these factors, which include:

    • Smoking
    • Alcohol consumption
    • Lack of weight gain
    • Being younger than 15 years or older than 35 years
    • Social and economic factors (e.g., low income, stress, abuse)
    • Previous preterm birth
    • Exposure to environmental risk factors (e.g., air pollution, contaminated water)
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    How to prevent low birth weight

    Because of how serious its effects are, low birth weight is considered by the WHO as a major public health problem.

    “Reducing the incidence of low birth weight requires a comprehensive global strategy, which must include improving maternal nutritional status; treating pregnancy-associated conditions such as pre-eclampsia (hypertensive disease of pregnancy); and providing adequate maternal care, perinatal clinical services and social support,” the WHO says.

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    The CDC names early and regular prenatal care as key factors in identifying the possibility of low birth weight infants, since it is during these visits when expectant moms can “discuss concerns during pregnancy with a doctor, and seek medical attention for any warning signs or symptoms of preterm labor.”

    Finally, avoiding smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs, as well as making sure to eat a healthy diet and gaining the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy can also help in making sure the infant is born at a normal weight and doesn’t suffer from other complications.

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