Low Birth Weight Babies May Struggle With More Mental Health Problems


Low birth weight is traditionally associated with physical problems such as difficulty breathing, developmental delays or hearing problems in children as they grow. But new research published in the journal Psychological Bulletin found that babies born with extremely low birth weights are at an increased risk for specific mental health problems, including Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, depression and shyness, beginning in childhood and extending at least into their 30s.

Lead author Karen Mathewson believes these findings may be a biological response to conditions the infant faces both before and after birth.

However, she notes that while the risk for mental health conditions is increased with low birth weight babies, many will not develop mental disorders at all. For those who do, the effects can be moderate to severe.

Factors that contribute to low birth weight include smoking, drinking alcohol, poor weight gain in mother or a preterm birth – meaning a baby born before 37 weeks.

Almost 11 percent of babies born in West Virginia are born preterm. West Virginia also boasts the highest rate in the nation of mothers who smoke while pregnant.

The study took place over a 26-year period in 12 different countries, including the United States and Canada.

Appalachia Helth News

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.