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What’s low birth weight?

Key takeaways:

  • Low birth weight refers to babies born weighing less than two and a half kilograms, and it is categorized based on specific weight ranges.
  • Premature babies are at a higher risk of being born with low birth weight, due to interrupted growth in the last trimester of pregnancy.
  • To maintain a low birth weight baby healthy, it is essential to provide breastfeeding, a balanced diet, and encourage physical activity, allowing the baby to follow their natural hunger and satiety cues.
  • The first thousand days of life are crucial for their physical and mental development.

Understanding Low Birth Weight in Newborns

Low birth weight is when babies are born weighing less than two and a half kilograms. Within low birth weight, there are categories:
<1kg: extremely low birth weight.
1 kg – 1.5 kg: very low birth weight.
1.5 kg – 2.5 kg: low birth weight.
2.5 kg – 4 kg: normal weight,

Why Does Low Birth Weight Happen?

The main weight gain happens in the last trimester of pregnancy, from the 38th to the 40th week. Therefore, premature babies are more likely to be born underweight because their growth is interrupted. Apart from that, other factors that can affect birth weight include maternal age, multiple pregnancies, the frequency of prenatal checkups, maternal health conditions, exposure to pesticides, smoking, alcohol consumption, and inadequate nutrition during fetal development.

Understanding the risks

It’s important to note that restrictive diets are not suitable during pregnancy. In the past, we used to pay attention only to babies born too large, above a normal weight. However, today we know that underweight can also be correlated with health issues throughout life.


What are some of the risks that an underweight newborn might face?

Some babies have an increased risk of infectious diseases, so it’s crucial to focus on developing a healthy microbiota through breastfeeding, complementing with infant formulas when needed, and introducing healthy complementary feeding when they reach that stage. They are also at higher risk of developing metabolic disorders and obesity, both in childhood and adulthood.

Recent studies tell us that our DNA is not the definitive guide to our entire lives. We have both our genotype, which is the set of genetic information contained in our DNA, and our phenotype, which is how these genes are expressed and can be modified by external stimuli, either positive or negative.

Early in life, there can be a reprogramming of the genetic material to adapt human development to environmental conditions. For example, underweight newborns may have a survival instinct that leads to a metabolism that conserves energy, a reduced sense of satiety, and an increased tendency to store fat, leading to an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders.

How do I keep my baby healthy?

Providing breastfeeding up to six months of age, introducing a healthy and balanced diet while respecting your baby’s hunger and satiety cues, and encouraging physical activity can be very helpful to minimize the effects that their underweight may have on their health. It’s essential not to force-feed your little one or compare them to others, but instead allow them to follow their own natural cues for hunger and fullness.

The first thousand days of your baby’s life, consisting of 270 days of gestation and 730 postnatal days (up to the second birthday), are the most critical period for physical and mental development. This period is often referred to as the “golden window” of opportunity. So, even if something didn’t go as planned, like premature birth or low birth weight, it’s essential to know that we are not bound by our DNA, and positive stimuli can reverse these metabolic effects.

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