You did everything the doctor said you needed to do –you ate right, exercised and slept at least eight hours a night. You thought the pregnancy was going smoothly and then – suddenly it was all over and you’ve given birth to a low birth weight infant and everything you expected from motherhood changed in an instant. Low birth weight is defined as an infant weighing less than 2,500 grams or about 5.5 pounds. Low birth weight infants can be born at any time during gestation so not all cases involve premature delivery. While small for gestational age and low birth weight are often used interchangeably, the two terms are not the same. An infant that is at or below the 10th percentile for weight based on gestational age is considered small for gestational age. Any infant weighing less than 2,500 grams is low birth weight, no matter the gestational age.
The Sub-Categories of Low Birth Weight Infants
While low birth weight is a complete category, there are subcategories that help define care needs based on weight. The two subcategories beneath the main low birth weight category are very low birth weight and extremely low birth weight. Very low birth weight infants weigh less than 1,500 grams at birth. Extremely low birth weight infants weight less than 1,000 grams at birth. Typically, infants falling into either of these two subcategories have other contributing factors that could require additional hospital and medical care.
Feeding Schedules, Amounts and Frequencies
Often, if there are no other medical considerations, feeding is the biggest obstacle with low birth weight infants. Parents often find it easier to hang a white board or chalk board to keep track of feedings. Feedings will follow a tighter, more frequent schedule in some cases and losing track of time is common. You also need to track how much baby eats at each feeding. If you are breastfeeding, write down the time not the total ounces consumed.
If your infant falls into the very low birth weight or extremely low birth weight category you may have special instructions from your pediatrician about special care your infant needs. Additional advanced care from specialists may be suggested or needed, but not in all cases. Low birth weight infants should gain weight faster than normal weight infants so your infant may require additional doctor’s visits for the first few months of life. If weight gain is not sufficient and you are breastfeeding, you may be required to supplement breast milk with high calorie formula to promote weight gain.