2.5  Assess, classify and manage low birth weight babies

In this section you will learn about problems associated with prematurity (preterm, born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and low birth weight (LBW) (a small for gestational age baby who did not grow well enough in the uterus during pregnancy) and how to manage these. This is important because LBW babies are more likely to have breathing and feeding problems and develop infection and die than babies with a birth weight of 2,500 gm or more. LBW babies who survive are likely to have more medical and developmental problems than normal term babies. Most communities believe that these babies are born to die. As a Health Extension Practitioner you have an important role to change this belief and help mothers and family members to provide the extra care the LBW baby needs. Box 2.3 sets out some of the common problems for premature or LBW babies.

  • What is low birth weight? What is very low birth weight?

    You learned the definition of LBW and very LBW in Study Session 8 of the Postnatal Care Module.

  • Low birth weight is where a baby weighs less than 2,500 gm at birth. A very low birth weight baby is one who weighs less than 1,500 gm at birth. A LBW baby can be premature, or small for gestational age.

Box 2.3  Low birth weight babies: problems and explanations

Breathing problems:-  Immature lungs -  Hypothermia (baby too cold) -  Infections
Low body temperature:-  Immature body temperature regulating system -  Low body fat
Low blood sugar:-  Low energy store
Feeding problem:-  Inability to suck or coordinate breathing and swallowing -  Small size -  Low energy -  Small stomach
Infections:-  Not well developed immune system
Jaundice:-  Not well developed liver to break down bilirubin (the substance found in blood that gives it red colour and helps in oxygen transport)
Bleeding problem:-  Not well developed clotting mechanisms.

2.4.1  Assess and classify birth asphyxia

2.5.1  Characteristics of premature babies