Low birth weight babies: Causes, risks, and care at home

Birth of a child is the call to boundless happiness and endless responsibilities. Especially when the child in underweight, you need to be on the toes; watchful and alert all the time.  Newborns with low birth weight face a lot of survival challenges which necessitates extensive parental and medical care for the child in the beginning. Let’s get to know the typical health issues of underweight babies and how to take the best care of them.  

Who are babies with low birth weight?

Babies born with a weight less than 2500 gms or 5 pounds 5 oz are identified as underweight newborns. 

Causes of low birth weight

Babies are born underweight because of two main reasons:

  1. Premature birth: It does not allow enough time to the babies to grow fully. 
  2. Intrauterine Growth Restriction: In this case, the babies are born on time, but they do not grow fully due to reasons like complicated pregnancy, smoking, substance abuse, multiple pregnancies, poor mother’s nutrition, infection in the mom or baby during the pregnancy, etc.  

How low body weight affects your baby?

A baby who is born on time but is underweight or a baby who is born a little early might not pose any health issue. In fact, a number of babies born with low weight just do fine without any complication. However, exceptions are everywhere and newborns with less weight, sometimes, face a few health issues. Parents should be aware of these issues to identify them and provide adequate care to the child. 

  • Blood sugar management: Low birth weight babies might consume the blood sugar faster than the speed of its replacement. They also have little fat, muscle, and glycogen stores due to less body weight. This sometimes, may lead to extremely low level of blood sugars or hypoglycemia. 
  • Problem with body temperature: Since babies with low weight have less fat in the body, they fail to maintain their body temperature and need to be kept warm with external support, either in incubator, room with maintained temperature, or with thermal blankets.  
  • Trouble in feeding: It is difficult to breast feed or bottle-feed the small babies. This further creates trouble in providing enough calories to the baby to meet the daily nutritional requirement. 
  • Trouble breathing: Low birth weight babies, sometimes, have immature (not fully developed and functional) lungs causing breathing problem. However, this is more common among pre-term babies.  

How to take care of low-birth weight babies at home?

#1. Provide Kangaroo mother care: This method is found very effective in reducing the mortality of pre-term babies or others with less than 2 Kgs of weight. In this type of care, the mother has to exclusively and frequently feed the child while maintaining total skin-to-skin touch by holding the child comfortably close to the chest. It helps stabilize the baby outside the incubator and prevents hypothermia (fall in body temperature of the baby).  It should be practiced twice daily for at least one to two hours or as long as the baby tolerates it. 

#2. Keep the child warm and dry: Keep your child always warm, wrapped in clean, dry, and soft towel or clothes. Leaving the child wet with milk spilt around the neck area or in the wet diaper will not only lead to skin rashes and infection, but can also invite other health problems like fever or lung problems. Use good quality wipes to clean the child. 

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#3. Feed frequently to prevent hypoglycemia: Milk feeds should be given to the child frequently. Keep checking the blood sugar level of the child with reagent strips to track the falling blood sugar, if any. In case milk feed is not possible, the doctor might suggest an intravenous infusion. Seek medical advice without any delay in such circumstances. 

#4. Prevent neonatal infections: Low birthweight children are very susceptible to infections from harmful pathogens during and after the birth. Frequent handwashing should be practiced by everyone at home. Keep disinfecting and sterilizing the things used for baby care. Do not allow outsiders to touch the baby for initial few days or make everyone present in the baby’s room use the hand sanitizer. 

Keep a note: For any unusual symptoms, keep your observations handy in a note to be presented to the physician. Maintain a time log to keep track of the frequency of the symptoms. In certain cases, you might need to click a photo of the child or record a video to produce before the doctor for better understanding of the problem.

When to see a doctor

Neonates display some non-specific signs and symptoms that point towards severe illness. These danger signs must be identified in the low-weight babies to medically address them and ensure stabilization of the child and prevent deterioration.

  • Rejection to oral feeding 
  • Convulsions 
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Less or no movement 
  • Fast breathing 
  • Visible chest in-drawing 
  • High body temperature  

Such symptoms should immediately be reported to the neonatologist for the right medical intervention. A hospitalization for continuous monitoring might be required till the child gets stabilized. Provide the best care to your child and be watchful until your child adjusts fully to the new world.