Low birth weight babies, a major concern in India

Low birth weight babies, a major concern in India

The health of a newborn baby is directly proportional to the health and nutritional status of the mother

The health of a newborn baby is directly proportional to the health and nutritional status of the mother.

Yet, lack of awareness and understanding about the need to ensure basic minimum intake of key nutritional factors like iron and calcium often leads to mothers giving birth to Low Birth Weight (LBW) babies.

As a country fighting against the scourge of malnutrition, India is one of the highest proportions of babies born with low birth weight.

In fact, with various estimates suggesting that around 7.5 million babies are born underweight each year in India.

While many mothers from economically weaker sections in India suffer from nutritional deficiencies, some who are financially equipped to take care of their nutritional status lag due to lack of awareness of the need to include enough amounts of protein and calcium in their diets.

Newborn babies weighing less than 2,500 grams are considered low-birth-weight (LBW) babies. The incidence of babies born with low birth weight is highest in South Asia, specifically in India.

A nutritious diet is very essential for a pregnant woman as it is she who passes the food to the baby in the womb.

The quantity and quality of the diet are hugely important for her and shouldn’t be compromised with.

Due to lack of awareness about the right diet plan, expecting mothers often stick to the poor and unhealthy diet. More often, the expecting women are diagnosed with anemia, a condition that develops because of inadequate or faulty dietary habits.

During pregnancy, women need to consume more protein, calcium, iron and folic acid to ensure good health both for the mother and the baby.
Would-be mothers must be extra cautious about what they eat.

As it is they who fulfill the nutritional needs of the developing baby in the womb. They should follow a proper diet plan so that the babies are born healthy and nourished.

Often, we find mothers consuming a lot of calories during pregnancy but paying little or no attention to intake of protein and iron and folic acid which are crucial bodybuilding foods.

Mother’s diet during the pregnancy has a direct influence on fetal growth and hence the size and health of the newborn. Mother’s eating an inadequate diet leads to low birth weight babies.

Many such babies are premature, and the rest suffer from Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR), which results in babies who are small for date (SFD) i.e. infants who are born after 40 weeks of pregnancy but are small because of malnutrition during intrauterine growth.

The risk of low birth weight and infants and the related neonatal mortality, as well as morbidity, is increased when one or more of the following risk factors exist during pregnancy like low socioeconomic status, poor maternal nutritional status, short stature of the mother, low pregnancy weight for height, biological immaturity (17 years), low weight gain during pregnancy, substance abuse i.e. use of drugs, alcohol and smoking. Un-prescribed medication or painkillers can also lead to such problems.

The end result is undernourished babies, a precarious condition. The low weight birth babies are more susceptible to infections and have weak immune systems.

Their body’s ability to fight against germs and infections are very poor as compared to children with ideal birth weight. LBW babies are more prone to hypothermia.

Just a cautious approach about right diet by expecting women can go a long way in solving the problem of low birth weight in newborns. A conscious effort of including green leafy vegetables, juices and fruits can make the regular diet a wholesome one for the would-be-mothers. A dietary counseling is must for all expecting mothers.

Balanced healthy diet

Protein-rich foods: Include pulses, nuts and cereals in your diet. If you are a non-vegetarian include meat, egg and fish are a regular part of your food.

Calcium-rich foods: Milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium. Include milk, yogurt, cheese and buttermilk in your diet.
Vitamins and minerals: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will take care of the need for vitamins and minerals.

Water and fluids: Fluids are an important component of a diet that ensures a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child. Drink a lot of plain water, coconut water, and juices.

(The writer is HOD and Senior Consultant, Pediatrics, Saroj Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi)

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