When an infant is born weighing less than 2,500 grams or 5.5 lbs, it is considered a low birth weight situation. Slightly more than 8% of infants are born low birth weight. A subset of the low birth weight group includes infants born weighing less than 1,500 grams or 3.3 lbs. Infants born weighing less than 3.3 lbs are considered very low birth weight. Very low birth weight andlow birth weight infants are at increased risk of similar complications, but the two are different in many aspects of health and healthcare.
Causes of Very Low Birth Weight
About 1.5% of infants are born into the very low birth rate category. The percentage has risen in the past decade due to an increase in multiples pregnancies. Many very low birth weight infants are born premature (prior to the 30th week gestation), but intrauterine growth restriction can also impede fetal growth. Many cases of intrauterine growth restriction result in premature delivery.
Characteristics of Very Low Birth Weight
Infants born weighing less than 3.3 lbs tend to be extremely underdeveloped with a thin body, very little body fat and a head that appears larger than the body. Infants typically gain the majority of body fat during the third trimester of pregnancy. The infant’s skin may appear transparent with blood vessels visible through the skin. Organs, including the lungs, are underdeveloped so very low birth weight infants require advanced, extended hospital care.
Side Effects of Very Low Birth Weight
The majority of very low birth weight infants are born prematurely. This increases the likelihood of complications, including infection, breathing problems, inability to maintain body temperature and gastrointestinal issues. Infants will spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit where they will receive specialty care to improve the likelihood of survival. If the infant survives, long-term health problems may include deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders.
Prognosis for Very Low Birth Weight Infants
Over the past decade medical advances have increased the chances of survival for very low birth weight infants. With close medical attention, special feedings and round the clock care, infants can and do survive being born extremely small and extremely early. Parents are often education on possible long-term complications while the infant is hospitalized or immediately thereafter.
Overall prognosis demands on a variety of factors, including gestational age at birth, organ development and complications suffered after birth. Survival rates have increased dramatically, but infants born at a very low birth weight are at increased risk of premature death.