Delivering Underweight Baby Linked to Memory Problems Later in Life

Giving birth to an underweight baby is associated with an increased risk of thinking and memory problems later in life, a new study has found.

Studies have shown that those who give birth to underweight babies may face an increased risk of certain health issues as they age, and new research adds cognitive problems to the list.

The study, published in Neurology, found that individuals who gave birth to infants weighing less than 5.5 pounds may be more likely to struggle with memory and cognition issues as they age compared to those who birth infants with regular birth weights.


“Previous research has shown that people who have had a low-birth-weight delivery have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure,” said study author Diana C. Soria-Contreras, Ph.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a news release. “Our study found that a history of having a child with a low birth weight may also be a marker of poorer cognition later in life.”

Scientists conducted the study using 15,323 female participants with an average age of 62, all of whom had given birth to at least one child. Among the total participants, 1,224 people, or 8%, had a history of low-birth-weight delivery, defined as less than 5.5 pounds for pregnancies lasting more than 20 weeks.

Participants were asked a series of questions about their pregnancy complications, birth outcomes, birth weight, and more, and they also underwent thinking and memory tests.

To determine the participants’ cognitive abilities, the researchers combined the average scores from two tests of memory and the ability to respond quickly and accurately to a situation and two learning and working memory tests. Those with higher scores had better thinking and memory abilities.

The results showed that, on average, the score difference between those who had and didn’t have a low birth weight delivery was -0.06 for speed and attention tests and -0.05 for learning and working memory. The authors said the difference observed was similar to what is associated with one or two additional years of age in this population.

The findings also demonstrated that the more low-birth-weight deliveries an individual had, the lower they scored.

The findings remained consistent for factors that could affect both birth weight and cognitive function.

The authors said more research is needed to confirm these results. Further research should also examine whether it might be necessary to screen women with a history of low-birth-weight deliveries for cognitive issues and encourage steps to promote brain health in this population.


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