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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Explained: The tiniest surviving babies, and the risks of low birth weight in infants

The earlier a baby is born from the average gestation period of 40 weeks, the greater are the risks of death or developing serious disability.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: August 11, 2021 9:53:30 am
The University of Iowa maintains a registry called ‘The Tiniest Babies’, which is a list of the world’s smallest surviving babies. (Representational image)

When Kwek Yu Xuan was born at Singapore’s National University Hospital in June 2020, her weight was about 212 grams, which is lighter than the combined weight two Rs 50 packets of Lay’s potato chips (230 grams for two). To put things into perspective, the average weight of babies at birth is 3.5 kg.

At the time of birth, Xuan was 24 cm long, which is the length of two six-inch rulers. However, 13 months later, she has been discharged from the hospital and weighs about 6.3 kg now.

Before Xuan, the world’s tiniest surviving baby was Saybie, who was born in 2019 at the Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns in San Diego, California. In May 2019, the hospital announced that Saybie was then the world’s smallest baby ever to survive. The baby weighed only 245 grams at birth, which is the weight of a large apple.

Saybie’s weight at birth was 7 grams less than a baby born in Germany in 2015 who had been till then the tiniest baby at birth.

Saybie’s length at birth was just 9 inches, which is about the length of a row of four Marie biscuits. However, at the time of Saybie’s discharge, she weighed 2.54 kg and was 16 inches in length.

Which are the tiniest surviving babies in the world?

The University of Iowa maintains a registry called ‘The Tiniest Babies’, which is a list of the world’s smallest surviving babies. This is important because the survival of babies that weigh less than 400 grams is not very common.  The registry’s aim is to collect data on the long-term health, growth and development of this group of infants that are considered vulnerable.

“The survival of these tiny babies illustrates the well known fact that gestational age is a more important factor than birth weight in determining the prognosis of an extremely premature baby,” the registry states.

The unique thing about 10 of the world’s tiniest surviving babies is that all of them were born before the average gestation period of 40 weeks.

low birth weight

What are the risks if babies are born underweight?

A 1995 review published in the journal ‘The Future of Children’ notes that while advances in medical technology have increased the survival chances of babies who are extremely light weight at birth, “serious questions remain about how these infants will develop and whether they will have normal, productive lives”.

Babies that are born before 37 weeks of gestation are known as preterm or premature babies. Broadly, the earlier a baby is born from the average gestation period of 40 weeks, the greater are the risks of death or developing serious disability, the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) says.

In 2018 for instance, preterm and low birth weight accounted for about 17 per cent of infant deaths. Even the babies which do survive are prone to suffering from breathing issues, digestive problems and bleeding problems. They can also develop some long-term problems, including delayed development and lower performance in school, according to the CDC.

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