RISK: Low Birthweight

Low birthweight (LBW, <2500 grams or about 5.5 pounds or less) and its principal antecedent, preterm delivery (<37 completed weeks gestation), together form the second leading cause of infant mortality39 and contribute substantially to the overall burden of childhood disability in the United States.40 Although the rates have leveled off recently, there has been a substantial increase in preterm/low birthweight births over the past thirty years. Nationally, in 2014, over 318,000 infants (or 8.0% of all live births) were born LBW.41 This increase has been in large part due to medical advances that allow infants at smaller weights to survive. Some of this trend is also attributed to a corresponding increase in the rate of multiple births, but the LBW rate has also been increasing among singleton births.

Despite the encouraging trend of better survival rates for LBW infants, children born LBW remain at risk for a number of problems that make it harder for them to enter school ready to learn and to succeed academically. Compared to normal birthweight infants, LBW infants experience higher rates of long-term disabilities, delayed social and motor development, and attention-related disorders. A National Education Goals Panel study found that LBW infants were more likely than peers born at normal weights to be enrolled in special education classes and to repeat a grade at ages 4 to 17 years. Risk for long-term health and developmental problems is especially high for infants at the lowest birthweights (<1500 grams or about 3.3 pounds or less). There is evidence, however, that early intervention, particularly involving parents as well as children, can be successful in improving school readiness and cognitive outcomes for infants born low birthweight.

Number and Percentage of Infants Born Low Birthweight (<2500g), Virginia, 2005-2014

SOURCE: Virginia Resident Live Birth Certificate Data compiled by the Office of Family Health Services, Virginia Department of Health.

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