Low Birth Weight Infants May Have Increased Risk for Schizophrenia

Infants who are born at full-term but have "very low birth weight" may be at increased risk for developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. A study from the British Journal of Psychiatry found that: "children born full term but weighing less than 5.5 lbs (almost 3% of the total sample) had a 50% increased risk of psychological distress in later life", independent of confounding factors such as lower childhood IQ. What kind of psychological distress was not clarified by the authors.

Low birth weight may well be a reflection of other causal factors - for example, delayed fetal development due to genetics, prenatal exposure to alcohol, toxins, or infections, poor prenatal nutrition. It is unclear at this point whether low birth weight can be a primary contributing factor to psychiatric symptoms, or whether it is secondary to other environmental insults.

Related Reading: Childhood Growth=Schizophrenia Risk? (August, 2005)

Action: Prospective mothers can help reduce the risk of having a low birth-weight infant by getting early and quality prenatal care, and making sure to get adequate nutrition during pregnancy (pre-natal vitamins may be helpful). Women over the age of 35 have a higher risk of delivering prematurely, or having an underweight infant at full-term.

One of the key reasons for low-birthweight babies is premature birth. A good book on preventing premature birth is called Every Pregnant Woman's Guide to Preventing Premature Birth - which we believe provides a good overview of approaches that mothers can take to minimize their risk of premature birth and therefore low birthweight.

The CBS News recently ran a segment entitled What Should Moms-to-Be Eat?, that included key foods for women to include during pregnancy for optimal fetal development and growth. One recent study also suggested that drinking pomegranate juice during pregnancy can help reduce fetal stress from low oxygen and decreased blood flow, both of which can lead to premature births. Another recent study preliminarily suggested that nitrous oxide treatment to low-weight babies can help increase oxygen circulation, which can reduce brain cell damage.

Two large studies out of Britain (2004) and Denmark (2002) both suggest that pregnant women who eat a diet rich in fish, particularly during the later terms, are less likely to have underweight babies or pre-term births.

Authors of the British study, which included 11,500 women and their infants, hypothesized that the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish may improve placental blood flow, thus speeding fetal growth. The results of the study showed that, discounting confounding factors such as age, height, weight, and smoking habits of the mother, intaking a higher-than-average amount of fish (the average of this cohort being about 33g of fish per day, the equivalent of 1/3 of a small can of tuna) can increase birth weight by as much as 70-80 grams.

Are all fish equal? Not for pregnant women, says the FDA and EPA.

Guidelines for Fish Intake During Pregnancy (FDA/EPA recommendations, March 2004)

  • 2-3 servings a week, not to exceed 12oz total per week
  • Eat a variety fish, avoiding those known to contain high levels of mercury
  • Good choices for pregnant women: wild salmon, flounder, canned light tuna, catfish, shrimp, pollock
  • Avoid: swordfish, mackerel, shark, tilefish, farm-raised salmon. Limit intake of bottom-feeders and shellfish (such as clams)

If the infant is born underweight, the parents may want to take extra care to enrich the nutritional, educational, and social environments of that child, which may effectively reduce the risk conferred by low fetal weight.

Some Good Books on how to have a healthy Pregnancy:

  • Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy
  • Eating for Pregnancy: An Essential Guide to Nutrition with Recipes for the Whole Family
  • Program Your Baby's Health : The Pregnancy Diet for Your Child's Lifelong Well-Being
  • The Prenatal Prescription
  • Every Pregnant Woman's Guide to Preventing Premature Birth
  • Supporting Research & News (a sample):



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