Low birthweight (LBW) is unique as a health outcome because it represents multiple factors: infant current and future morbidity, as well as premature mortality risk, and maternal exposure to health risks. The health associations and impacts of LBW are numerous.
In terms of the infant’s health outcomes, LBW serves as a predictor of premature mortality and/or morbidity over the life course. LBW children have greater developmental and growth problems, are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life, and have a greater rate of respiratory conditions.[2-4]
From the perspective of maternal health outcomes, LBW indicates maternal exposure to health risks in all categories of health factors, including her health behaviors, access to health care, the social and economic environment the mother inhabits, and environmental risks to which she is exposed. Authors have found that modifiable maternal health behaviors, including nutrition and weight gain, smoking, and alcohol and substance use or abuse can result in LBW.
LBW has also been associated with cognitive development problems. Several studies show that LBW children have higher rates of sensorineural impairments, such as cerebral palsy, and visual, auditory, and intellectual impairments.[2,3,6] As a consequence, LBW can “impose a substantial burden on special education and social services, on families and caretakers of the infants, and on society generally.”