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Babies with low birth weight at risk of mental health problems

newborn with low birth weight

Babies with low birth weight at risk of mental health problems


The causes and risk factors of mental disorders keep extending with new research. A recent study has found that babies with low birth weights are more at risk of developing mental disorders like depression and anxiety in their childhood and teenage years. On the other hand, babies with larger birth weights are less likely to develop a mental illness.

Although this discovery might sound scary to pregnant moms, it's actually a good thing. The findings could help identify children that are more at risk of developing mental illness so they can be given the necessary support on time. Of course, early diagnosis and intervention are some of the most effective ways to improve one's quality of life, regardless of their mental disorder.

The connection between birth weight and mental illness in childhood

The research used data that monitored the babies until their adolescence. With each kilogram below the average birth weight (3.5kg or 7lbs 11oz), the likelihood of mental problems increased by 2%. The problems typically included inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, symptoms that characterize ADHD. However, the good news is that no matter how low the birth weight gets, the problem would probably not be severe enough to be diagnosed as ADHD.

Nevertheless, children tend to develop these mental problems in childhood, lasting throughout their teenage years.

The connection between low birth weight and mental illness in teenage

The problems become more worrisome as the child gets older. Children with low birth weight tend to develop emotional and social problems like depression and anxiety as they cross their teens into adulthood. This time, the problems can get severe enough for a clinical diagnosis.

Next steps

This is just one of the many reasons pregnant women should be given more comprehensive perinatal than ever. Just as anxiety in pregnant women may lead to preterm births, preterm birth is one causative factor for low birth weight. Poor nutrition, alcohol and drug use, diabetes, and heart diseases may also cause low birth weight.

These issues can negatively impact the child's well-being as they grow. Improving the overall health of the woman during pregnancy becomes crucial. Obviously, a healthy mom has a better chance of giving birth to a healthy child.

It's also important to evaluate children with low birth weight for mental problems so that interventions can be implemented early enough.


The study was published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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