An Irish study shows that babies with a higher birth weight have fewer mental health and behavioral problems during childhood

Babies with higher birth weights tend to have fewer mental health and behavioral problems during childhood and adolescence, according to a new Irish study.

These findings from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin could help identify and support children at higher risk of developing mental health problems.

The researchers studied the birth weight and subsequent mental health of thousands of children in Ireland.

Unlike many studies looking at birth weight, data were used that followed the same children repeatedly throughout their infancy and adolescence using the Growing Up in Ireland study, an ongoing government funded study of children who are were born between 1997 and 1998.

The analysis showed that every kilogram below the average birth weight (3.5 kg or 7 lbs 11 oz) was associated with more reported mental health problems in childhood and adolescence.

The study also found that these birth weight-related problems tend to persist throughout childhood, from ages nine to 17.

The problems most strongly associated with birth weight were inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, behaviors commonly associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Every pound less than the average birth weight was associated with a 2 percent increase in the risk of ADHD-like behaviors, but such behaviors were within the normal range.

That is, even in children with very low birth weight (1.5 kg), the average number of ADHD symptoms would probably not reach the threshold for an ADHD diagnosis.

Lower birth weight has also been associated with emotional and social problems, particularly in the late teens.

These problems turned out to be more severe and closer to clinical thresholds, for example for the diagnosis of depression or anxiety.

Mary Cannon, Professor of Epidemiology and Adolescent Mental Health at RSCI, said: “We have known for many years that low birth weight and preterm birth are associated with a higher risk of mental illness in the infant. This study shows that even small deviations from the typical birth weight can be relevant.”

Niamh Dooley, PhD student and lead author of the study, said: “This relationship between birth weight and child mental health holds even after accounting for factors that might affect both birth weight and mental health, such as gender, socioeconomic factors and the mental history of parental illness.

“The impact of birth weight on later mental health is likely small, but it may interact with other risks such as genetics and childhood stress and have implications for understanding the origins of mental health and disease.”

This study demonstrates the importance of good perinatal care and suggests that improving women’s overall health during pregnancy to ensure optimal birth weight may help reduce the risk of offspring developing mental health problems.

Children with low birth weight may benefit from psychological assessment in childhood and early intervention for mental health symptoms, when identified, to minimize the burden of mental illness in later adolescence and adulthood. An Irish study shows that babies with a higher birth weight have fewer mental health and behavioral problems during childhood

Fry Electronics Team

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