Pregnancy is a long journey, considering that it chunks a whopping nine months out of your life, with a lot of concerns all the way.
A successful pregnancy terminates at nine months with the birth of a baby. But then, the concerns have just begun, as there are plenty of things that the physician looks out for in a newborn before he could reasonably say ‘congratulations’ to the new parents.Of utmost importance in newborn care is the weight at birth. This is because a baby’s birth weight can determine whether or not s/he would survive childhood, and also if s/he would lead a healthy life.
The World Health Organisation says any baby who weighs less than 2.5kg (2,500 grams) at birth is regarded as a “low birth weight” baby, irrespective of when s/he is born during pregnancy.
Paediatrician, Dr. Benita Davis, says being a low birth weight baby is different from being born a premature. She says, “Premature babies are born before the 37th week of pregnancy. And since they have not completed their full term and development in their mom’s womb, they might need specialised attention in the neonatal intensive care unit and they usually have a low birth weight.
“On the other hand, low birth weight babies are born after the 37th week of pregnancy (full term), but they weigh less than 2.5kg and are also referred to as ‘small for date.’”
Davies warns that a low birth weight baby is prone to so many negative health indices such as slow development. Experts add that such a baby will most likely have too many red blood cells, which can make his/her blood too thick (medically called polycythaemia); and s/he could inhale some of his/her first poop (meconium), causing breathing problems.
The child may also have low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) and difficulty keeping warm. Considering all these, you want to prevent your baby from low birth weight. But how? Read on.
Davies says some of the factors responsible for low birth weight in full-term babies are totally preventable, though some may also be out of the pregnant woman’s control. Factors that are out of human control include multiple births such as twins, triplets or more.
The paediatrician says this category of babies are often born early and don’t have as much room to grow in the womb. Consequently, she says, they tend to be low birth weight babies
Again, she notes, there may have been a problem with the placenta, perhaps caused by pre-eclampsia (a disorder of pregnancy characterised by high blood pressure and a large amount of protein in the urine), which reduces blood flow to a baby.
“This can restrict a baby’s growth, because not enough oxygen and nutrients can get through,” she enthuses.
Other factors include anaemia, chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and kidney disease; certain infections during pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease like HIV-AIDS, and certain medical complications.
But then, there are numerous other causes of low birth weight which, if the mother is careful enough, could be prevented. They include the following…
Pregnancy can be tricky, because even where a woman was known for healthy eating habits before she became pregnant, her heightened hormone secretions can predispose her to pica – an abnormal desire to eat substances not normally eaten.
Researchers warn that if a pregnant woman is fond of feasting on chips, crisps and biscuits, her baby can have a lower than average birth weight. Why is this?
Nutritionists say these foods contain acrylamide – a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking.
Foods that contain acrylamide include French fries that are made in restaurants and probably fried in aluminium containers; French fries that are oven baked, potato chips, breakfast cereals such as corn flakes and all-bran flakes, cookies, brewed coffee, toast, pies, cakes, crackers, and soft bread.
Others are popcorn, pretzels, pizza, peanut butter, breaded chicken, bagels and soup mix.
Nutritionists say while you may not totally eliminate these foods from your diet, you must eat them sparingly. They urge pregnant mothers to adopt a balanced diet and go easy on these other foods.
Cardiologists put it in a rather pathetically funny way: When you smoke, so does your baby. This is apt, considering that a baby in the womb ‘eats’ whatever the mother eats. The same applies to drinks and, of course, smoking.
Experts warn that when you light a cigarette, you inhale poisons such as nicotine, lead, arsenic and carbon monoxide.
“These poisons get into the placenta, which is the tissue that connects you to your baby and sends oxygen and nutrients and eliminates wastes. These poisons keep your baby from getting the proper supply of nutrients and oxygen that he or she needs to grow,” physicians explain.
Even where the expectant mom doesn’t smoke, her unborn baby can still be exposed to second-hand smoke if anyone regularly smokes around her.
In addition to low birth weight, smoking during pregnancy can cause an unborn baby to have more colds, lung problems, learning disabilities, and physical growth problems after birth.
Experts say even third-hand smoke, made up of gasses and toxins that remain in people’s clothes and hair, in carpet, furniture and drapes can affect babies and young children’s brains because they are still developing, and are much more susceptible to any levels of toxins.
Illegal drug and alcohol use
It has been concluded that the only amount of alcohol that is safe for anyone is no alcohol. Ditto the use of street drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.
“Any amount of these substances is considered unsafe during pregnancy. The best thing is to avoid them altogether. Quitting before you get pregnant is ideal, but stopping drug use at any point during pregnancy will benefit your baby,” says the online portal, healthline.com.
Gynaecologists say a foetus is very sensitive to drugs and cannot eliminate them as effectively as the mother can. As such, they counsel, the chemicals can build up to extremely high levels in the baby’s system and can cause permanent damage — including a low birth weight.
The bottom line
Experts warn that low birth weight places babies at increased risk for illness, disability, and death. Low birth weight infants are at risk for mental retardation, learning disability, and long-term consequences. You don’t want any of these for your baby; so, watch your habits.