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Birth Weight


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Why This Measure?

Low birth weight infants include those born too early, as well as those suffering from retarded intrauterine growth. In the short-term, one reason this measure is important is the strong relationship between birth weight and infant mortality and morbidity (prone to disease). Low birth weight babies (less than 5 lbs 8 oz) begin their lives in neonatal intensive care units at great personal and financial costs. Low birth weight is also a good long-term measure, as these babies are at much higher risk for a host of developmental and physical problems. In addition, birth weight sheds some light on the status of the overall system that supports children and mothers, and it reflects interrelated community issues such as socioeconomic status, race, maternal age, education, access to health care, and tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.

Source: Vital Statistics, MDPHHS

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How are we doing?

The trend in low birth weight has been fluctuating for several years. In 1995 we hit 5.5%, which is very close to the HP 2000 goal of 5%; however in 1997 we climbed again to 6.7%.


Infant Mortality

Infant mortality is closely related to birth weight. Our rates of infant mortality are:

Missoula Montana U.S.

Total pop., 1991-1995 yearly average : 7.9 7.3 8.9 (1990)

Native Amer., 1989-1993 yearly average: 20.1 15.4 18.0 (1991)

The national Healthy People 2000 objectives for infant mortality are to reduce the rate to no more than 7 per 1000 live births. The objective for Native Americans is no more than 8.5 per 1000 live births (Data to Action, CDC).


Maternal smoking has been linked to low birth weight infants and is estimated to be associated with 20% to 30% of all LBW births in the U.S. (Healthy People 2000). Heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy is known to cause defects among infants and fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterized by retardation of both physical growth and mental capabilities. Native Americans on reservations, as well as blacks bear a disproportionate share of fetal alcohol syndrome-related problems (33 and 7 times higher than whites, respectively) (Healthy People 2000).

Prenatal Care

Late entry (after the third month of pregnancy) into prenatal care can adversely affect the unborn child. Health care providers can positively affect conditions such as low pregnancy weight gain and/or low prepregnancy weight, as well as substance abuse (including alcohol consumption) or smoking during pregnancy.

Source: Vital Statistics, MDPHHS


Connections to Fathers

Single mothers are twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby (Data to Action, CDC). Although there have been improvements in the receipt of early prenatal care by teenagers, this age group is consistently the least likely to receive prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy (Trends in the Well Being of America’s Children & Youth, 1998). Early prenatal care is especially critical for women at increased medical and/or social risk. Damage to the fetus from drug (including prescription medications), alcohol, and/or tobacco use can occur early in the pregnancy (HP 2000), and proper nutrition and exercise is essential for a healthy outcome. In addition, hypertensive disorders have been tied to inadequate birth weight, shortened gestations, and infant death (CDC’s Monthly Vital Statistics Report, Vol.44, No.11(S), June 24, 1996).

Other Problems

Under construction


Cost to Society

Low birth weight babies are at a greater risk of neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and seizure disorders, severe mental retardation, lower respiratory tract conditions, and are generally more prone to disease (Data to Action, CDC). The long term cost to society for medical and social services is frequently high.




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