Low birth weight babies are at higher risk for various health complications due to their smaller size and potential immaturity of their organs and systems. 

Some common risks associated with low birth weight babies include:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Infections
  • Jaundice
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Temperature instability
  • Neurological problems
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Long-term developmental challenges
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
  • Cerebral Palsy

Effects of low birth weight on cognitive development

The impact of low birth weight on cognitive development can be profound and long-lasting. Several key influences on cognitive development are identified in such children:

effects of low birth weight on cognitive growth

1. Delayed developmental milestones

delayed developmental milestones

Children with low birth weight may experience delays in reaching developmental milestones, such as sitting up, walking, and talking, compared to children born with normal birth weight.

2. Intellectual disabilities

intellectual disabilities

Low birth weight can, in extreme situations, result in cerebral problems or learning difficulties. Academic achievement and cognitive processing may be difficult for these kids.

3. Lower IQ

lower IQ

Research has indicated a connection between low birth weight and lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores in comparison to children with normal birth weights. However, it’s crucial to recognize that IQ is shaped by various factors, with low birth weight being just one of them.

4. Attention and concentration issues

attention and concentration issues

Children born with low birth weight may experience difficulties with attention and concentration, which can have implications on their ability to focus and excel in a school environment.

5. Memory problems

memory problems

Low birth weight may be related to memory issues and challenges with learning, retaining, and recalling information, according to some studies.

6. Behavioral and emotional issues

behavioral and emotional issues

Behavioral and Emotional Problems: Children with low birth weight may be more likely to experience behavioral and emotional issues like anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

7. Executive functioning challenges

executive functioning challenges

Executive functions refer to a set of cognitive processes that are responsible for planning, organization, and self-regulation. Low birth weight may lead to challenges in executive functioning skills.

8. Language and communication difficulties

language and communication difficulties

Children with low birth weight may experience delays in language development and have difficulties with expressive and receptive language skills.

Not all low birth weight children face severe cognitive effects. Multiple factors impact cognitive development, such as early environment, nutrition, healthcare, and education.

Early intervention and support programs can greatly improve outcomes and help manage cognitive challenges. If concerned, consult healthcare professionals for guidance and support.

Preterm and low birth weight babies – what is the difference?

The terms “preterm baby” and “low birth weight baby” are related but not the same in neonatal medicine. Here are their differences.


Preterm Baby

Low Birth Weigt Baby

  1. Definition

Baby born before completing 37 weeks of gestation

Baby weighing less than 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds) at birth

2. Timing of Birth

Born prematurely, before reaching full-term

Birth weight is lower than the average for their gestational age

3. Weight at Birth

Weight can vary, and may be low or appropriate for gestational age

Birth weight is consistently low, regardless of gestational age

4. Developmental Challenges

Organs and body systems may not be fully developed, leading to health issues

May face health problems due to underdeveloped body systems

5. Possible Causes

Multiple pregnancies, lifestyle factors, or medical conditions

Intrauterine growth restriction, premature birth, or specific health issues during pregnancy

6. Neonatal Care

Often requires specialized care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)

May also need NICU care or monitoring depending on health status

7. Long-term Outcomes

Higher risk of long-term developmental challenges

Outcomes can vary, with some experiencing catch-up growth, while others may have lasting health or developmental concerns

Treatments for a low birth weight babies

The treatment for a low birth weight baby depends on the baby’s specific needs and medical conditions.

Medical professionals carefully assess the baby’s health and provide individualized care to support their growth and development.

Some common treatments and interventions for low birth weight babies include:

  • NICU care: Specialized support in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
  • Respiratory support: Oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation for breathing difficulties.
  • Feeding assistance: Nutritional support through tubes or specialized bottles.
  • Temperature regulation: Use of incubators or warmers to maintain body temperature.
  • Infection management: Antibiotics or medications to prevent or treat infections.
  • Phototherapy: Special lights to reduce jaundice levels.
  • Monitoring and testing: Regular assessments of growth and organ function.
  • Developmental support: Early intervention programs and therapies.
  • Family education: Guidance for parents and caregivers.
  • Gradual transition to home: Carefully planned discharge process.


Chennai Women’s Clinic is now Jammi Scans

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Dr. Deepthi Jammi (Director, Jammi Scans) is a qualified OB/GYN and Post-Doc in Maternal Fetal Medicine. As a pregnancy ultrasound expert, she is passionate about healthy pregnancies and works towards spreading awareness on the latest diagnostic options available for parents to choose from. Dr.Deepthi has received gold medals and awards in Fetal Medicine at international and national conferences, and has appeared in numerous prestigious regional magazines and TV interviews.

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