Every mom-to-be wants to have a healthy baby from his or her very first day of life, but for so many, that isn't possible. One out of every 12 babies is born with a low birth weight - a low birth weight is considered anything below 5 pounds, 8 ounces - which is more than 20 percent lower than the average 7-pound baby.
A good many of those babies are born small because they are born early, and there are others who are small for their gestational age for various reasons such as birth defects, infections, environmental factors or problems with the baby or the mother. Unfortunately, starting out at a small size can indicate other issues, or it can put the baby behind from the very beginning of life. Low birth weight babies are more likely to develop issues such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, and if they were premature, there are a number of other physical, cognitive and developmental problems that can be involved.
There are a number of reasons why the baby could have a low birth weight. We're not going to get into birth defects and chromosomal issues here, but we want to let women know what factors can put their own children at risk. Here are 15 unexpected things mom do that can affect the baby's birth weight.
15 Racism Reaction
Considering the political atmosphere these days, many women could be really alarmed at the first item on our list. Racism has a lot of terrible consequences, and plenty of moms worry that their children will suffer from the weight of it when they are older, but the truth is that it can even impact the baby in the womb.
A research study published in 2012 found the correlation between women who face racial discrimination and having low birth weight babies. The study mostly involved Latinas but also included black women and it found the same truth — the women who were targeted for their race ended up depressed, and their depression, in turn, lead to low birth weight babies. It's a really terrible situation that kids have to face the consequences of racism before they are even born. It's just another reason that we hope racism goes away forever.
14 Vaping Consequences
Electronic cigarettes seemed like the answer to many people's prayers when they came out, allowing people to enjoy the sensation of smoking without the harmful effects. But e-cigarettes are still harmful, and scientists have gone to great lengths to try to convince people that they are bad for you. On top of that, many women know that smoking a cigarette is really harmful to a baby during pregnancy, but they think that switching to an e-cig is safe.
In 2015, a research study showed that 40 percent of pregnant women believe that e-cigs are safer than real cigarettes. Most thought that they didn't have nicotine in them and they weren't addictive, but in fact, the opposite is true. E-cigs still contain nicotine, and that can still harm the baby. It could lead to giving birth prematurely and low birth weight. Doctors recommend that women give up all nicotine products when they are pregnant, and that includes vaping. It could definitely lead to a small baby and other very harmful circumstances.
13 Teen Mom Trend
Shows like "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" definitely showed some of the downsides of having a baby while still in high school (although some people say it also glorified it and made celebrities out of children raising children). But becoming a teen mom isn't just detrimental to your social life; it can also be a very dangerous proposition.
In a 2010 study of babies born in the United Kingdom, researchers found that teen moms were more likely to give birth early, and their babies were more likely to have low birth weight. That was especially true if it was their second child. Part of the issue, the researchers found, is that teen moms are less likely to get good prenatal care. They are also more likely to be underweight themselves, which can cause issues with the nutrition of the child. The numbers don't lie — teen pregnancy is definitely a risky situation, and young mothers need support and help to have healthy babies.
12 Risky Business
It may seem strange to talk about intimacy when it comes to being dangerous for the baby since it was the act that actually caused the baby to be conceived. But women still have to be concerned about risky intercourse before and after they are pregnant because it could end up having an impact on the baby's health. That can include a baby being born with a low birth weight.
Sexually transmitted infections can cause havoc on a woman's entire body, and that includes her downstairs, her cervix and more. There are some very serious consequences to the baby as well, including blindness. But low birth weight can also be very serious and cause other complications. If a woman has an STD, she should consult a doctor and go through treatment during pregnancy, and they should definitely do all that they can — use condoms! — to avoid them in the first place.
11 Being Poor
Women get pregnant whether they have money in the bank or not. But unfortunately, those who are poor are at a big disadvantage, even beyond what someone would expect. They also are more likely to have low birth weight babies. According to a 2007 research study, it didn't matter the race or ethnicity of the mom, but if she reported conditions that came with being poor, she was much more likely to have a tiny baby.
About 31 percent of the women who had problems affording food for their family had low birth weight babies, compared to an average of 13 percent among all women in the study. It was 23 percent for women who said they lived in crowded housing, and 17 percent for unemployed women (which is different than choosing to be a stay at home mom). Of course, it isn't just because a woman is poor. Doctors believe that the stressors that come from having to deal with poverty are the reason that they are more likely to give birth early or have low birth weight babies.
10 Skipping The Doctor
One of the most important things that a mom-to-be can do is to see her doctor while she is pregnant. While some women are perfectly healthy during their pregnancy and their baby grows as he should, there really isn't any way to tell that you are one of them without seeing the doctor find out. Prenatal care can be a big difference maker if something isn't going great, and that is why most insurance companies — and a number of government programs — make it easier for a woman to access it.
Healthcare providers may not seem so critical when a pregnancy is progressing well. Trips to the doctor or midwife mostly consist of stepping on a scale and getting your blood pressure checked. But the key point is that the doctors are there to pick up on problems, and sometimes a conversation on the proper diet and exercise can get the mom on the right track. Other times, tests like ultrasounds can spot an issue, and if the doctor knows about it early enough, he may be able to forestall an early birth or a low birth weight baby.
9 Prescription Problem
A lot of women are aware of the risks of illicit drugs, but they usually think anything that came from a doctor is OK. That is not always true when she is pregnant, and many times there can be a true risk to the baby if the mom continues to take certain prescription drugs.
The thing is that a doctor wouldn't prescribe those medications if there were not a medical need in the first place, so women need to have a conversation with their doctor before they stop taking them. The two need to discuss the risks versus the rewards for the pills because if the mom isn't healthy, then she won't be able to carry the pregnancy to term anyway. It can be a very tricky situation, but it can be important to talk about it. In fact, if a woman is considering getting pregnant, she should talk to her doctor about her medications ahead of time, as the prescriptions can interfere with the baby's development in the critical first weeks after conception. All that could lead to a low birth weight baby, but that might be a risk the woman should take to ensure that she remains healthy enough to be a mom.
8 Natural Remedies
These days, people like the idea of going more organic with their medications. Things like essential oils and vitamin supplements are all the rage as some turn away from more traditional prescriptions, and the biggest trend has been changing laws throughout the country as people turn to medical marijuana to treat their pain, anxiety and other issues. But even if it seems natural, marijuana isn't something a woman should consider during pregnancy.
In 2016, a research study concluded that even though cannabis oil can benefit things like nausea and back pain, it can also lead to low birth weight in the baby. According to the study, one in 25 women admitted to using marijuana during pregnancy, but we suspect that number might be higher. Doctors are trying to spread the word about the risks, which can also include attention problems when the baby is older, especially since the expanded laws may give the perception that it is safe. For nine months, though, women should put aside the cannabis or risk having a tiny baby.
7 Caffeine Caution
Everything that a mom ingests can have a bearing on how healthy the baby is, and that includes things she eats and drinks. Many moms-to-be may think that extra latte might be just fine, but the truth is it could be an unexpected reason why she delivers a low birth weight baby. The link between caffeine and birth weight was proven in a study in 2013.
According to the study, caffeine — especially in the form of coffee — can make the baby small for the gestational age. With that in mind, most doctors recommend that women limit their caffeine consumption to just one cup of coffee a day. But women need to remember that caffeine also comes in other forms, such as chocolate, so if a mom-to-be is craving dark chocolate candies, she needs to skip the coffee so that her baby can be healthy.
6 Fracking Issue
There are a lot of environmental issues that get talked about these days, and it is certainly true that pollutants in our environment can cause problems with people and with pregnancies. So it may not be surprising that one of the latest ecological debates could also have an impact on an unborn baby. According to a recently released study, women who live in areas where fracking occurs could be at risk for a low birth weight baby.
Fracking is a process used to mine natural gas, and it has gotten a lot of flack in recent years for a number of health ailments. But just recently did scientists take a look at the impact on the health of babies born within 15 miles of a fracking site. The results were not good. Mothers who lived within a half-mile of the site were 25 percent more likely to have a low birth weight baby than those two miles away. It could definitely give parents concern if they live close enough to an area where natural gas fracking is being considered.
5 Weight Concerns
Both before and during pregnancy, the mother's weight is not only an indication of her own health but also the health of the baby. Women who are healthy before they conceive are more likely, in general, to have a baby of a healthy weight, while those who are underweight could struggle to fully nourish a child. That's one reason there is a range that doctors recommend for women to gain weight during pregnancy.
For a woman at a healthy weight, doctors typically recommend 25 to 35 pounds of weight gain. While there are some babies that are born healthy if less weight is gained, others could struggle. Underweight women should gain more, while overweight women should try to gain less. Of course, the best way to gain weight is through a healthy diet, and that can make a big difference. We'll get into that more in a moment, but first, we wanted people to understand the importance of talking to their doctors about weight gain and how it could impact the baby.
4 Sugar Rush
As we just mentioned, weight gain is part of the puzzle when figuring out how to nourish a baby in the womb, but a woman's diet also depends on other factors. If a woman has a condition that makes it hard to process sugar, she will need to get it under control to have any hope of having a healthy child.
Women who have diabetes before pregnancy are certainly at risk, but there is also a condition called gestational diabetes where the pancreas doesn't work as well during pregnancy. Some women can control it with diet, while others need medication. Uncontrolled diabetes often can cause babies to be larger in size, but it could also cause premature labor, which can cause them to have low birth weight. It's important to be tested for gestational diabetes and to follow the doctor's instructions to control it, as both higher birth weight and lower birth weight can have dangerous consequences for the baby.
3 Eating A Vegan Diet
Protein is a big deal when you are pregnant, so cutting out meat can be a pretty big barrier to making sure that a woman is eating healthy. Things like red meat help with iron levels in the body, and when there isn't enough iron, moms suffer a condition called anemia. Anemia causes low birth weight babies, sometimes because the baby is born too early, and that could mean really bad issues.
There are some people who eat a vegan diet and are perfectly healthy during their pregnancy, but they have to be very careful to eat the right amount of protein and other iron-rich foods. Beans, barley, spinach, seaweed, quinoa, oats, and soy are good providers of iron, but many times doctors recommend that people who are eating a vegan diet will go above and beyond and also take an iron supplement. Regular prenatal vitamins can also help provide other key nutrients that may be lacking in a diet that doesn't include meat. It's important that a woman following vegan diet talks to her doctor early — preferably before she has even gotten pregnant — since nutrient deficiencies can cause problems in fetal development very early in the pregnancy, and that can cause even worse problems than low birth weight.
2 Getting Sick
No one ever wants to get sick, but getting sick while pregnant can be dangerous not only for the mom but for the baby. There are a number of infections that can really cause havoc on a baby in the womb, causing low birth weight and a range of other issues, including developmental delays. We're not talking about a cold, although that can be very miserable. But women who are pregnant are more susceptible to illnesses that aren't usually a big deal.
We've already talked about sexually transmitted diseases, and sure enough, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and AIDS are on the list of dangerous infections. Other problems are hepatitis, enteroviruses, toxoplasmosis (the one that you can get from changing your cat's litter), group B strep, listeria, and chickenpox. Even herpes simplex virus — the one that gives you cold sores — can be a problem and lead to a low birth weight baby. The faster a woman gets treatment, the better so that she can be healthy and the baby can grow and develop even more.
1 Stressed Out
Have we frightened you enough yet? As you can see from this list, there are a number of things that can impact the baby's birth weight that moms don't have a whole lot of control about. And of course, that does little to put a worried mom-to-be at ease. But unfortunately, we have one last thing to discuss — the more a mom stresses out, the worse it could be for her baby's birth weight.
Stress and anxiety are a factor by themselves, but a side effect of stress can be high blood pressure, which can be really dangerous for the mom's and the baby's health. When high blood pressure progresses into preeclampsia, both are at risk of death, so the condition is a leading cause of preterm birth. And high blood pressure can also restrict growth when it is prolonged.
Unfortunately, we know that telling a mom that stress can hurt the baby only leads to more anxiety, so it's a lose-lose battle. But it's one that most women are willing to battle as best they can to deliver as healthy a baby as they can.
Sources: Mamas Latinas, CDC, March of Dimes, Allegheny Front, Science Daily