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Low Birth Weight in Babies - Causes, How to Avoid this, Effects on Child Development

Debashree Bhattacharya
0 to 1 years

Created by Debashree Bhattacharya
Updated on Oct 24, 2020

Low Birth Weight in Babies Causes How to Avoid this Effects on Child Development
Reviewed by Expert panel

Low birth weight (LBW) is defined by the World Health Organization as a birth weight of a infant of 2,499 g or less, regardless of gestational age. Subcategories include very low birth weight (VLBW), which is less than 1500 g (3 pounds 5 ounces), and extremely low birth weight (ELBW), which is less than 1000 g (2 pounds 3 ounces). Normal weight at full term delivery is 2500–4200 g (5 pounds 8 ounces – 9 pounds 4 ounces).

What Are The Causes Of Low Birth Weight In Babies?

Reasons for low birth weight could be many ranging from heredity to your health condition and diet habits during pregnancy:

  1. Premature Birth Due To Premature Labour:

    A newborn is said to be premature when born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A baby gains more weight in the later part of pregnancy. Therefore, babies born early will have less time to grow and develop in the mother’s womb. This is why premature babies weigh less or cannot gain an average weight.
  2. Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR):

    Babies born with intrauterine growth restriction are small for gestational age (weight below the 10th percentile for gestational age). They are born full-term and still have a low birth weight which may be due to lifestyle or genetic factors of their parents.
  3. IUGR is of two kinds:
    • Asymmetrical IUGR happens if you are suffering from high BP or malnutrition during pregnancy. The baby will be born with average head size, thin and with asymmetric liver size
    • Symmetrical IUGR occurs because of intrauterine infections, chromosomal abnormalities and lifestyle factors such as alcohol abuse. In these situations, the baby develops relatively slow all through your pregnancy and weighs below the average weight. They could develop health issues that remain throughout their life
    • Multiple Pregnancies:

      If you are carrying more than one baby, i.e., twins, triplets or more, the individual weight of each baby will be below than 2,500 grams. It is because the babies compete for nutrients, thereby stretching the uterus and putting excess strain on the mother
    • High Blood Pressure:

      If you have high BP, the blood flow to the baby from the placenta is interrupted, resulting in a lower birth weight of baby
    • Intake Of Drugs Or Alcohol or Cigarettes:

      Consumption of nicotine, drugs or alcohol during pregnancy will affect the growth of the baby and thus impact his/her weight. These substances release harmful chemicals in the placenta which alter the oxygen supply to the growing baby and therefore inhibit his/her growth and development
    • Placental Issues:

      If you have any placenta-related problems like placenta previa (placenta lies unusually low in your uterus covering your cervix) or pre-eclampsia (pregnancy complication of high blood pressure and kidney damage), they affect the flow of blood and nutrients to the fetus, therefore, leading to low birth weight
    • Abnormalities Of The Uterus:

      Fibroids and uterine malfunctions would restrict the growth of the baby in the uterus
    • Diabetes:

      Diabetes is usually associated with a big baby, but it will also result in preterm labor in some cases which will affect the baby’s weight
    • Abnormalities Of The Cervix:

      Cervix abnormalities can stimulate a premature birth as it is under pressure to open up. It will, therefore, cause low birth weight in babies. However, doctors treat this condition by putting a stitch and you are suggested to take complete bed rest
    • Infections That Develop During Pregnancy:

      It is quite common for you to contract infections during pregnancy. These diseases and drugs to treat them will have a significant effect on the baby’s birth weight
    • Prior History:

      If you have had a low birth delivery or pre-term delivery earlier, the chance for another low birth delivery is high
    • Improper Diet:

      If you have not gained the required weight during pregnancy due to imbalanced diet or malnutrition, there is a chance of low birth weight baby. A growing baby needs sufficient nutrients to develop, and your food plays a prominent role
    • With careful nurturing and breast milk, some babies cover the shortfall in the first few months. However, for a few mothers their baby’s low weight continues to be a worry as it could have long-term effects.
    • Stress:

      Modern life is full of anxiety, tension and pressure. Pregnant working women have to cope up with the hectic job schedule and also tremendous mental pressure to follow the natural diet chart in the work place. All these things create a stress in the mind of expecting mothers that affect their health and mood a lot resulting loss of appetite and peaceful sleep that hampers the natural growth of their babies

Effects Of Low Birth Weight On Child Development:

The effects vary from baby to baby, and also depend on the cause of low birth weight. Full-term children with low weight will not have any problems, but preemies with low weight might have long-term effects such as:

  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome (also called RDS). This breathing problem is common in babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy. Babies with RDS don’t have a protein called surfactant that keeps small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing. Treatment with surfactant helps these babies breathe more easily. Babies with RDS also may need oxygen and other breathing help to make their lungs work
  • Bleeding In The Brain (also called IVH). Bleeding in the brain can affect low-birthweight premature babies, usually in the first 3 days of life. Brain bleeds usually are diagnosed with an ultrasound. Most brain bleeds are mild and fix themselves with no or few lasting problems. More severe bleeds can cause pressure on the brain that can cause fluid to build up in the brain. This can cause brain damage. To reduce the fluid, your baby may be treated with medicine. In some cases, a surgeon may insert a tube into the baby’s brain to drain the fluid
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus (also called PDA). PDA is a common heart problem for premature babies. Before birth, a large artery called the ductus arteriosus lets the baby’s blood bypass his lungs. This artery usually closes after birth so that blood can travel to the baby’s lungs and pick up oxygen. When the artery doesn’t close properly, it can lead to heart failure. Providers use tests like ultrasound to check for PDA. Babies with PDA are treated with a drug that helps close the artery. If the drug doesn’t work, a baby may need surgery
  • Necrotizing Enterocolitis (also called NEC). This is a problem in a baby’s intestines. The intestines are long tubes below the stomach that help digest food. NEC usually develops 2 to 3 weeks or later after birth. It can be dangerous for a baby. It can lead to feeding problems, swelling in the belly and other complications. Babies with NEC are treated with antibiotics (medicines that kill infections) and fed intravenously (through a vein) instead of by mouth while the intestine heals. In some cases, a baby may need surgery to remove damaged parts of intestine
  • Retinopathy Of Prematurity (also called ROP). ROP affects blood vessels in the eye. It mostly affects babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy. Most cases heal themselves with little or no vision loss. Some babies need treatment, though, to prevent vision loss

Some Other Risks:

  1. High risk of infections
  2. Problems with feeding and weight gain
  3. Low blood sugars (hypoglycaemia)
  4. Increased red blood cell count which can make the blood thick
  5. Inability to stay warm
  6. SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)

Low birth weight could sometimes be unavoidable. But if you know about the situation when the baby is in your womb, you will be able to take corrective measures. Certain tests during pregnancy can help you with it.

Treatment For Low Birth Weight In Babies:

Low birth weight babies require special care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) until they gain weight and become healthy. Babies with too low a birth weight, around 500 grams, have fewer chances of survival. Specific treatment management will depend on your child’s gestational age, complete health condition, and medical history. His/her tolerance for certain medications, therapies, and procedures. The usual treatment methods for low birth weight babies include:

  • Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
  • Temperature regulated beds
  • Special feedings, wherein the baby gets his feed through a tube directly into his stomach, if he is unable to suck. It may also include an intravenous (IV) line

What Health Conditions Can Low Birthweight Cause Later In Life?

Babies born with low birthweight may be more likely than babies born at a normal weight to have certain health conditions later in life, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome. (This is caused when you have high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease all together.)
  • Obesity

Tips To Lower Your Risk Of Having A Low Birth Weight Infant:

  • Start Prenatal Care Early

    Prenatal care is important as it helps to detect early any medical problems such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a condition where blood flow to the placenta reduces, which in turn restricts the supply of nutrition to the foetus. During each prenatal visit, the gynaecologist will closely monitor the mother’s blood pressure, weight gain, and the baby’s growth and heart rate
  • Make Significant Lifestyle Changes

    Smoking and alcohol are known to increase the risk of having a low birth weight infant. Stop smoking and stop drinking alcohol. Minor lifestyle adaptations like minimising stress and having sufficient sleep can have significant benefits on growing foetus
  • Keep Pre-existing Medical Illnesses Under Control

    Expectant mothers with pre-existing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are more likely to have low birth weight infants
  • Maintain Healthy Weight Gain And Good Nutrition

    Pregnancy is not the time for dieting! Maintain good nutrition, and especially at the beginning of your pregnancy, increase your intake of folic acid which is found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Folic acid deficiency is linked to premature births and low birth weight


How Do I Take Care Of My Low Birth Weight Baby?

Daily life with any newborn can be challenging and every new mum worries if she is doing the right thing for her tiny baby. And if you baby is low birth weight baby your concern becomes just double.

In many ways, your low birth weight baby(LBW), is just like any other baby. She/he needs to stay warm and dry. She/he needs to be kept clean, and have enough fluids and nourishment. Above all, she/he needs you, and the comfort of your love and care.Breastfeed On Schedule Breastfeeding is the best way of nourishing your baby. Try not to feed him anything other than breast milk for the first six months after birth. So keep a record of when she has had her milk, and feed her at regular intervals to ensure that she gets her feeds at the right time.

Skin-to-skin contact

Skin-to-skin contact benefits both you and your LBW baby. Holding your baby directly against your skin, which is also called kangaroo care, is known to:

  • help her gain weight
  • maintain her body warmth
  • regulate her heart and breathing rates
  • help her spend more time in deep sleep
  • give a better chance of successful breastfeeding
  • help her spend more time being quiet and alert and less time crying


Massage is yet another essential part for your baby’s weight gain. Premature and low-birth-weight babies respond well to gentle rubbing or stroking. Using an oil will make it easier for you to massage and will be more comfortable for your baby.

Follow Safe Sleeping Guidelines:

Co-sleeping does have its advantages and makes breastfeeding at night easier for many mums. You may also enjoy the closeness that sharing your bed with your baby brings.

However, bear in mind that you can sleep in the same room with your baby, but not in the same bed. Instead, you could use a co-sleeper or move your baby’s crib, bassinet, or cot next to your bed. Always put your baby to sleep on her back – not on her tummy or side.

Monitor Him/Her Growth Closely

Ensure that you take your baby to the paediatrician regularly and don’t miss out on any check-ups. This will help you and your doctor to track her progress and identify any problems at an earlier stage. Also make sure your baby gets all her vaccines on time.

Help Him/Her Thrive

Your baby needs to be in good health and have lots of energy so she can learn and grow, and you can help by covering her basic needs. To help her thrive, make sure you make time to just hold, play with, and stroke your baby. Get to know his/her likes and dislikes.

Get The Support You Need

Try to get as much help as possible, especially in your first few weeks. If you're in confinement, you'll probably have your mother or mother-in-law around to help you during the first 40 days after birth. Also take time to do things you enjoy and build in some time for exercise when you're ready. These breaks will help you find the strength to keep going.


Foods To Eat When You’re Pregnant:

Pregnancy is not a period when we can do dieting. Healthy weight gain is extremely important for the delivery of a healthy child. Here are 13 highly nutritious foods to eat when you’re pregnant.

  • Dairy Products

    Dairy products, especially yogurt, are a great choice for pregnant women. Dairy products help meet increased protein and calcium needs. Probiotics may also help reduce the risk of complications
  • Legumes

    Legumes are great sources of folate, fibre and many other nutrients. Folate is a very important nutrient during pregnancy, and may reduce the risk of some birth defects and diseases
  • Sweet Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which the body transforms into vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for the growth and differentiation of cells in the growing foetus
  • Salmon

    Salmon contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important for brain and eye development in the growing baby. Salmon is also a natural source of vitamin D. Yet pregnant women are generally advised to limit their seafood intake to twice a week, due to the mercury and other contaminants found in fatty fish. This has caused some women to avoid seafood altogether, thus limiting the intake of essential omega-3 fatty acids
  • Eggs

    Whole eggs are incredibly nutritious and a great way to increase overall nutrient intake. They also contain choline, an essential nutrient for brain health and development
  • Broccoli And Dark, Leafy Greens

    Broccoli and leafy greens contain most of the nutrients that pregnant women need. They are also rich in fibre, which may help prevent or treat constipation
  • Lean Meat

    Lean meat is a good source of high-quality protein. Beef and pork are also rich in iron, choline and B-vitamins, all of which are important nutrients during pregnancy
  • Fish Liver Oil

    A single serving of fish liver oil provides more than the required amount of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and vitamin A. Fish liver oil may be particularly important for women who don’t eat seafood. However, it is not recommended to consume more than one serving (one tablespoon) per day, because too much preformed vitamin A can be dangerous for the foetus. High levels of omega-3 may also have blood-thinning effects
  • Berries

    Berries contain water, carbs, vitamin C, fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and plant compounds. They may help pregnant women increase their nutrient and water intake
  • Whole Grains

    Whole grains are packed with fibre, vitamins and plant compounds. They are also rich in B-vitamins, fibre and magnesium, all of which pregnant women need
  • Avocados

    Avocados contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, fibre, folate and potassium. They may help improve foetal health and relieve the leg cramps that are common in pregnant women
  • Dried Fruits

    Dried fruit may be highly beneficial for pregnant women, since they are small and nutrient-dense. Just make sure to limit your portions and avoid the candied varieties
  • Water

    Drinking water is important because of the increased blood volume during pregnancy. Adequate hydration may also help prevent constipation and urinary tract infections


In conclusion I would like to say that if your baby is a low birth weight baby, talk to your baby’s health care provider about what you can do to help your baby be healthy. As your child grows, make sure she eats healthy food, stays active and goes to all her health care check-ups. Getting regular check-ups throughout childhood can help your baby’s provider spot health conditions that may cause problems as your baby grows older. Apart from these eat these 19 Weight Gain foods during pregnancy .

Did you like the blog? Did you find it useful? Do share your thoughts with us in the comments section below; we’d love to hear from you.


This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| May 18, 2018

Hello mummies, please let me know your feedback. Feel free to ask questions also.

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| May 18, 2018

my baby is of 24 days old ..n born for 8 months 10 days . it's weight when born was 2. 75 n now it's weight is 2. 140 wat to doo...

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| May 18, 2018

hello Debo.... Debja's birth weight is 2. 3 kgs... Now he is 2yrs 10 mnts... still he didn't gain proper weight... he is now 10. 9 kgs... plz suggest how to gain his weight

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| May 18, 2018

debo it was really informative how u gathered such a useful info dear very helpful to pregnant mummys as well as lbw moms.........

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| May 18, 2018

Hello Shipashree, nurse your baby as much as possible... best is every 2 hourly. Give body massage twice in a day. l used Sebamed body oil. It is better if you ask your baby's doctor about the massage oil. Don't skip any vaccine. Consult your child's paediatrician about the present weight of your baby. His birth weight is absolutely fine... so the reason for dropping the weight must be diagnosed by a professional person. Don't worry dear... everything will be fine.

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| May 18, 2018

Hello Smita, try to include the following food items in his diet chart: butter, ghee, ripe bananas, ragi, dry fruits, potatoes and sweet potatoes, dairy products, soya milk and soya chunk. Engage him in lots of physical activities. Make him drink water time to time.

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| May 18, 2018

Hello Trinayani, l am glad that you liked the blog. Thanks a lot for the acknowledgement dear.

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| May 18, 2018

Hello Trinayani, l am glad that you liked the blog. Thanks a lot for the acknowledgement dear.

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| Jun 19, 2018

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| Aug 11, 2018

my baby is 2 month10 days old her birth weight is 3. 2 kg & now she is 4. 310 kg ,is she gaining weight properly

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| Aug 16, 2018

Hello DrSowmi, as per my knowledge your baby is gaining weight. Nurse your baby as much as possible

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| Oct 12, 2018


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| Oct 12, 2019

Hello my baby is now 5. 5 month old his birth weight is 3. 5 kg and now his weight is 7. 8 kg his weight is normal?? m much worried about his weight??

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| Oct 12, 2019

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| Nov 28, 2019

Hello Dr .. my baby is now 5 months old weighing 4. 9kg and her birth weight was 2. 4 kg.. is she gained sufficient weight?. Can I start weaning once she completes 5month?

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| Sep 18, 2020

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| Sep 18, 2020

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