Low birthweight is a condition that is dangerous and even life-threatening to a newborn.
About six per cent of all newborns are considered to be low birthweight, weighing less than the internationally agreed definition of 2.27 kg (5lb). Low birthweight is a condition that can be dangerous to a newborn and even life-threatening and generally low birthweight babies require immediate special care.
Premature or Pre-term Babies
These babies are born either as a small-for-date baby, or as a premature baby. Half or more of low birthweight babies are born too soon. They are pre-term or premature. In many cases there seems to be no obvious reason why these babies enter the world so soon.
In some cases there may be one or more of the following factors associated with an early labour: Illness during pregnancy, smoking poor nutrition, or a high stress lifestyle. But in other cases, none of these factors may be present.
Small-for-date babies are those that are born around their expected due date but for some reason have not grown as big as expected. Sometimes this occurs due to poor nutrition, smoking, an inefficient placenta, or in cases of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.
Often multiple birth babies are low birthweight.
These small babies often have troubled births and may suffer breathing problems that requires close monitoring because of their immature respiratory tract.
Other problems may include hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels) and convulsions.
They often lack the fat layer under the skin that insulates them and require an incubator, as babies must be kept warm.
Their skin is often red as the blood vessels can be seen through the thin layer of skin. Often they are jaundiced, have difficulty feeding, and be susceptible to infection.
Later in Life
Research shows that globally, low birthweight babies tend to perform less well at school and are pre-disposed to a greater risk of more serious problems later in life such a diabetes, heart disease and stroke.