Long-term effects of an underweight baby

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Long-term effects of an underweight baby
Weight gain in babies is based on many factors (Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Parents are always concerned about the weight gain of their new baby. A doctor may conclude that a baby is not gaining enough and is considered "underweight." What that means differs from doctor to doctor, but most physicians use various charts and comparisons to determine a baby's status and try to work with the parent to alleviate the condition and bring the baby to an acceptable weight for its age.

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Why Are Some Babies Underweight?

There are many reasons why a baby would not be gaining properly, and the side effects of being underweight can sometimes be long lasting and dangerous. When a doctor is taking the history of the baby and its parents, he is usually looking for some behavioural or genetic causes for the baby's inability to put on weight. A careful review of the family's medical history as well as the actual birth process may provide information that explains the baby's condition. A physical examination will usually reveal any metabolic, neurological or gastronomical problems, but these are rarely the cause of slow weight gain. Vitamin D deficiency, sometimes referred to as rickets, is sometimes cited as a cause for being underweight, but is most often not the case.

Underweight Babies May be Slower to Develop

A baby who continues to lose weight or does not gain weight according to his age and body structure can suffer from many physical and mental health implications. Low caloric intake can result in below-normal brain development, slower motor skills and biological difficulties. Often the baby is colicky and uncomfortable. He may be hyperactive and have difficulty quieting down or relaxing. Low weight babies are subject to additional problems. Often they have difficulty sucking and will be unable to breast feed, missing out on the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in breast milk. These will have to be supplemented. Underweight babies have less immunity and therefore are more susceptible to viruses and other bacteria.

Problems in Childhood and Adulthood

Singapore researchers reported in a 2002 issue of the British Medical Journal that underweight babies have more than 20 per cent more psychological problems as adults than babies whose weight falls in the acceptable percentiles. In addition, children who were underweight as babies reach their developmental milestones later than babies who were of normal weight. As children, they have more difficulty paying attention in school and may lack certain social skills.

Underweight Babies Should be Treated Seriously

If a child is not gaining sufficient weight over a period of a few months, or if she has lost weight over this time, extreme measures must be taken, as being underweight can have long-term effects into childhood and adulthood. Working side by side with a psychologist, who can work on reducing the baby's stress, a nutritionist can provide the necessary guidelines to resolve the problem. The appropriate formulas and food supplements can make quite a difference in a baby's weight gain. Conditioning the infant in the best ways of eating is important for immediate gains as well as for her future.

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