Low Birth-Weight Babies At Risk of Adult Depression

A UK study has highlighted the risks of giving birth to full-term, low birth weight babies in a comprehensive study of over 5000 British adults. Researchers found a direct link between low birth weight and the incidence of depression in these babies as they reached adulthood.

The results of this fascinating study emphasize the importance of maternal prenatal health and the subsequent emotional wellbeing of their babies. Researchers at the University of Bristol and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied over 5000 adults aged from 45 to 51 who had previously participated in a child development study in the late 1950s.

What the researchers found was startling. Where birth weight for a full-term baby was low (i.e. under 5.5lbs or 2.5 kg), the individual had a 50% higher chance than their normal birth weight peers to experience emotional problems in later life, most notably depression.

Using statistical analysis, researchers were able to adjust for life factors such as socio-economic issues, IQ, and childhood difficulties, yet still were able to conclude that small babies are more likely to experience depression as adults. These finding lead scientists to speculate that restricted growth in the uterus may have detrimental effects on the subsequent emotional wellbeing of these babies.

The average full term baby weighs approximately 7.5 lbs (3.4 kgs) and almost 25% of this weight is accounted for by the head. At birth, a baby’s head is already 25% of its full adult size. Low birth weight babies are often placed in incubators which may add to the overall stress load of a small baby. Such babies are also more likely to suffer from other conditions such as diabetes, learning difficulties, and a failure to thrive.

The study adds mood disorders to what appears to be a growing list of medical problems to which low birth weight babies seem more susceptible. The reasons for depression are multifactorial and hence it is difficult for scientists to accurately pinpoint the precipitating factors involved. However, low birth weight babies can be the result of genetic factors as well as lifestyle issues such as smoking, poor nutrition, poor maternal health, and alcohol abuse.

While we cannot control our genetic make-up, we can certainly take steps to ensure that our unborn child receives adequate nutrition during those critical first nine months in the uterus. This new finding linking low birth weight to depression in adulthood is yet one more good reason to eat healthy during pregnancy.

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