Comprehensive prenatal care typically includes multiple doctor’s appointments, blood tests, and medical screenings. Medical screenings may include ultrasound. If during the ultrasound an infant is deemed smaller than they should be for gestational age, special attention may be paid to infant size for the duration of the pregnancy. That special care can include changing the pregnant woman’s diet and preparing for the birth of a low birth weight (LBW) infant. Hospitals take four factors into consideration when planning LBW infant care:
- Respiratory Care
- Hypothermia / Body Heat Maintenance
- Proper Feeding
- Infection Prevention
Your infant’s special care will start in the delivery room and continue until all medical signs point to a full recovery of any conditions that are either expected or present due to LBW.
LBW infants tend to be premature infants in some cases. Premature infants may not have fully developed lungs, so the hospital will be set up to provide care for an infant who cannot breathe without support. If your infant is able to maintain a healthy pulse ox without special respiratory care, she will be allowed to breathe on room air. If there is a respiratory problem, a respiratory specialist will be called in and your infant will be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit until respiratory problems resolve.
One of the most common health problems associated with low birth weight deliveries is body temperature maintenance. During the final weeks of pregnancy, your baby puts on lots of body fat. That body fat helps her maintain body heat after birth. If your infant is born early or at a LBW, she may not have the fat needed to stay warm. Special heat lamps are used in the hospital until she can maintain her body heat without additional care.
LBW infants may have trouble breast or bottle feeding. More frequent feedings with high-calorie infant formula may be suggested. If a mother insists on breastfeeding, which is always best, the baby’s weight will be watched very closely. Supplementing with high-calorie formula may be required in some cases.
Preventing respiratory infections in low birth weight infants is crucial to health and positive birth outcome. LDW infants are more susceptible to RSV or respiratory syncytial virus. RSV can be life-threatening if not treated immediately and properly – so prevention is crucial.
Taking care of your low birth weight newborn takes an army of medical professionals, but you can rest assured that this isn’t the first time they’ve worked with tiny babies.