National Indicator: Health Authority Tackles Risks of Low Birthweight Babies

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 10, 2002 | Go to article overview

National Indicator: Health Authority Tackles Risks of Low Birthweight Babies


Byline: DR LAYLA AL-JADER

WHILE low birthweight babies (LBW), those weighing less than 2.5 kilograms, often survive, grow and do well, some have a higher incidence of illness and complications after birth, including a higher risk of death soon after birth or within the first year of life. These babies are associated with poor general health, socio-economic conditions, education, nutrition, and risk factors such as smoking, and alcohol consumption, both before and during pregnancy, and also teenage pregnancy.

In addition, mothers who were born as LBW are usually at high risk of having LBW babies themselves. That is why LBW is considered a valuable indicator of a nation's health.

When I wrote the chapter in the Bro Taf's Director of Public Health 1998 Annual Re-port on low birthweight babies, the percentage of LBW babies calculated then for 1996 for Bro Taf was 7.9pc of total births. It was also found to be 7.9pc of all live births who have a known birthweight (between 1996 and 1998). This was a rising trend from 6pc in 1990 to 7.5pc (the average for 1998-2000). Several factors are probably responsible for the increase in LBW babies. These include a change in clinical perception of what is considered to be a viable foetus. There is a reported shift in the registration for extremely pre-term and/or LBW babies from miscarriages (non-registrable) to registered births. Also, there may have been a reduction in the proportion of LBW babies not weighted at birth, and an increase in the proportion of twins, triplets and high order of multiple births with the development of fertility treatment.

Since 2001, we started using a revised and agreed definition of LBW that only relates to single live births, to remove the effect of multiple births. Statistical analysis of the data using single live births only (1991-2000) shows that a higher percentage of LBW babies are born in South Cardiff and parts of the Vale of Glamorgan, as well as many areas of Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil.

On the other hand, a lower percentage was found in most of North Cardiff and Western Vale. This reaffirms the well-known relationship between LBW and social, cultural and ethnic risk factors, with an overall association with higher deprivation.

In 1998, several projects were already under way to tackle this problem in Bro Taf. This included several ``stop smoking'' projects specifically aimed at pregnant women and young mothers; youth advisory clinics to reduce teenage pregnancy; an awareness campaign to promote folic acid in pregnancy to prevent congenital anomalies. It also included specialist clinics for women at high risk of LBW; a ``smoke-free'' babies project and the early intervention by midwives.

An award-winning Bro Taf strategy for improving quality and standardisation of antenatal screening for congenital anomalies during pregnancy had raised the level of education for both staff and mothers receiving care. Healthy eating on a low income was another project in the Gurnos Family Centre; a ``smoke-free'' Vale project with the local authority is another project; sexual health projects in Cardiff schools, in addition to the folic acid campaign in schools and workplaces.

I have reviewed the progress so far in 2002. On the smoking cessation front, the Merthyr Tydfil Smoking Cessation Service project is under way across the area. …

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