Babies who were born prematurely and with extremely low birth weight may be at higher risk of developing mental health problems later in life.

Low Birth Weight And Health Problems Later In Life

Premature birth and fetal growth restriction are two main reasons why babies are born with low birth weight. In the United States, one in 10 babies are born prematurely.

Researchers have long associated low birth weight with health problems later in life. Babies with low birth weight, for instance, are more likely than babies born with normal weight to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Increased Odds For Mental Health Problems In Babies Born With Extremely Low Weight

Now, researchers find evidence suggesting that tiny babies are also more prone to suffer from mental health problems when they get older.

In the new study, Karen Mathewson, from McMaster University in Canada, and colleagues looked at 41 earlier studies that were conducted between the years 1990 and 2016 involving more than 2,700 extremely low birth weight babies and more than 11,000 babies with normal birth weight.

They found that extremely low birth weight babies, or those who were born weighing less than 1,000 grams, tend to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as children and are likely to have increased risk for ADHD and social problems during their teen years.

Mathewson and colleagues also found that compared with their counterparts who were born with normal weight, adults who were born with low birth weight have higher rates of anxiety, shyness and depression. They are also marked by lower levels of social functioning.

"Risks for parent-reported inattention and hyperactivity, internalizing, and social problems were greater in adolescents born at ELBW. In contrast, ELBW teens self-reported lower inattention, hyperactivity, and oppositional behavior levels than their NBW peers," the researchers reported in their study. "Depression, anxiety, and social difficulties were elevated in ELBW survivors in adulthood."

Some May Not Develop Mental Health Problems

Although they found a link between birth weight and mental health problems, the researchers said that some babies who were born with low birth weight may not develop mental health problems when they grow up. The study, which was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin on Feb. 13, only established an association but not a causal relationship.

The researchers said that what is important is that the families and health care providers of these low birth weight children know of their potential for mental health problems. They also cautioned that some individuals may not grow out of these problems even as they get older. Thus, they recommend that appropriate treatment be made available for these children as early as possible.

Risk Factors For Giving Birth To Low Birth Weight Babies

Mathewson said that the raised odds for mental health problems may be attributed to stress-triggered biological responses during infancy. Some of the risk factors that may raise a woman's odds of having low birthweight baby include preterm labor, chronic health conditions, infections and not gaining enough weight during pregnancy.

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