All about Babies Born Small

A small baby is generally smaller than the average size baby, measured against the number of weeks of pregnancy. It is also referred to as small for gestational age.

Small babies may appear physically mature and even have normal length, but retain low body weight and mass.

What Causes a Baby to Be Small?

This is usually genetic, although in most cases, they are as a result of fetal growth problems that could have happened inside the uterus.

A condition called intrauterine growth restriction is a major culprit. This condition stops the baby from getting enough nutrients and oxygen through the placenta from the mother, thereby slowing down growth.

Other factors that might contribute to having a small baby include:

  • Smoking
  • Malnutrition
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Substance abuse (alcohol, Drugs)

Diagnosing the size of your baby is mostly done through regular clinic visits and antenatal tests. Sometimes there could be a problem between the placenta and uterus. Such problems include:

  • Decreased blood flow in the uterus and placenta
  • Infection in the tissues surrounding the uterus
  • Placenta abruption (placenta detaches from the uterus)
  • Placenta previa (Placenta attaches low in the uterus)

Your developing baby may also encounter situations that may influence low birth weight. These include:

  • If they are more than one (multiple pregnancy)
  • Birth defects
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Infection

Delivering a Small Baby

Delivery of a small baby is usually done vaginally or through a C section. Key concerns that your delivery team may encounter include:

  • Low oxygen levels in your baby
  • Low Apgar score
  • Meconium aspiration 
  • Difficulty maintaining normal body temperature.

Prevention of Low Baby Weight

Once you doctors determine that indeed you’re carrying a small baby, you may be booked for more regular visits to monitor any fetal growth problems. Other ways to improve your baby’s weight are such as:

  • Stopping smoking or any drug related abuse.
  • Eating a healthy diet while pregnant.
  • Treatment for small babies (low birth weight)

Once your baby is born, your doctor may consider the following before recommending a course for treatment. These are based on:

  • Your baby’s weight and condition
  • Mother’s opinion or preference.
  • Results of the Apgar score

Treatment will often involve hospitalization and will involve:

  • Your child being put on temperature controlled beds
  • In babies who may lack a strong suckle, tube feeding may be considered to ensure nutrition
  • Low oxygen levels will be constantly monitored and supplemented till an improvement is noted.

A commitment by all mothers to attend regular antenatal check ups go a long way in determining any birth weight related complications and should religiously be attended.


Please note that development differs from one child to another. 

Content intended for educational purposes only, and should not be substituted for medical advice from your doctor.

Be careful when using any products mentioned on this website. We hold no regulations for such products or their providers.

Last reviewed March 2019 

Sources: stanfordchildrens, msdmanuals, medlineplus

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