THURSDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- Families caring for
extremely low birth weight babies generally face a higher chance of
having to cope with developmental difficulties, but researchers who
have tracked the tiniest babies have come upon some good news.
By the time these tiniest preemies reach young adulthood, any
negative effect they've had on family health has all but faded
away, the Canadian scientists noted.
"The big finding here is, over time, the impact on the family diminishes," said Dr. Saroj Saigal, professor emeritus of pediatrics/neonatology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
But she noted that her findings may not apply to all
populations, especially those in the United States. "Universal
health care [in Canada] may play a role," she says. And 80 percent
of her families were composed of two parents, which also could have
had a positive impact on the outcome.
In the United States, about one of 12 babies is born with low
birth weight, defined as less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces, according to
the March of Dimes. Saigal tracked extremely low birth weight
(ELBW) babies, who weigh less than 1.6 pounds. Low birth weight
babies are at increased risk for serious health conditions as
newborns, as well as long-term disabilities.
Saigal and her colleagues evaluated 130 of the original 161
extremely low birth weight group she has been tracking since birth,
and 126 of the original 141 normal birth weight group. The babies
were born between 1977 and 1982 in central-west Ontario. For the
latest reports, mothers of both groups answered detailed
questionnaires about how they and their children, now aged 22 to
25, were doing.
Saigal found no significant differences in the scores between
the two groups in terms of marital problems, family dysfunction,
the mother's mood, family anxiety and depression, social support
and the parents' physical and mental health.
Those families who had children with problems such as blindness
or cerebral palsy -- two conditions that sometimes, but rarely,
occur in low birth weight infants -- had healthier family
functioning scores than others, for reasons Saigal can't
The one downside: more parents of the extremely low birth weight
children reported negative job effects, such as fewer job and
educational opportunities, presumably due to the time commitment
needed to tend to their children's needs.
But the families of the extremely low birth weight group also
said the experience brought their family closer, and that relatives
and friends were more helpful to them than the help reported by
mothers with normal birth weight children.
A U.S.-based expert is said he is surprised by the finding. "The
outcomes were a lot better than I would have anticipated," said Dr.
Avroy Fanaroff, chair of the department of pediatrics at the
Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital and Case Western Reserve
University, and the Eliza Henry Barnes chair in neonatology at Case
Western in Cleveland.
The new findings are more positive, Fanaroff said, than previous
ones from a team from Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, which
found that families with extremely low birth weight babies
experienced more long-term adversity than those of full-term
children, and that differences persisted even at early
He agreed with Saigal that the new conclusions may not apply
universally. "When you do a study you hope it is generalizable, but
I think her sounding a word of caution is appropriate."
What should not be overlooked, he said, is the need for extra
support and services to the families of the tiniest infants.
The study appears in the July issue of
To learn more about low birth weight babies, visit the
March of Dimes.