Why are today’s babies being born so BIG?

By benim
In Children & Youth
Aug 4th, 2011
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As soon as a baby is born, there are three crucial pieces of information that family and friends demand to know — the sex, name … and weight.

Which is why, when baby Hayden Church arrived six weeks ago, his delivery drew gasps — not to mention a few winces — from everyone with whom his mum Carly, 31, shared the crucial information.

The reason? Hayden weighed a whopping 12lb 7oz. Indeed, he was so enormous that after more than 48 frustrating hours of labour, doctors had to perform an emergency Caesarean section to ensure his safe arrival.

‘I’d been pushing and pushing, but he wasn’t budging,’ says Carly from Ditton in Kent, where she lives with her police officer husband Alex, 28, who she met when she, too, was in the police force.

‘When they finally pulled him out I heard someone say: “Oh, wow!” From behind the surgical screen, I couldn’t see what was going on.

‘Then someone added: “Congratulations. You’ve got a huge baby boy!” My baby was the size of a three-month-old.’

While newborns of Hayden’s proportions are undoubtedly uncommon, statistics show more women than ever in the UK are giving birth to babies weighing 10lb or more.

In the post-war years there has been a steady upward trend in birth weight, explained in the main by improvements in our diet.

Oh baby! JaMichael Brown weighed a whopping 16lb 1oz at birthOh baby! JaMichael Brown weighed a whopping 16lb 1oz at birth

Larger, healthier, more muscular babies were born as a result, pushing the current average birth weight to 7lb 8oz for boys and 7lb 4oz for girls — up 2oz and 1½oz respectively since 1970.

And this rise in birth weight shows no sign of stopping. Between 1993 and 2003, the number of babies born tipping the scales at above 9lb 15oz increased by 20 per cent and experts expect statistics from the next decade — 2003 to 2013 — to have rocketed yet again. 

While there is no set figure for how much a newborn should weigh, The Royal College of Midwives use 8lb 13oz as its guideline for the tipping point between a healthy weight and a potentially problematic one.

Alarmingly, the rate of macrosomia (the medical term for babies born over this tipping point) has soared in recent years.

So why is this happening?

The simplest answer is that babies are getting bigger because their mums are, too.  The latest figures show that almost half of women of child-bearing age in Britain are overweight or obese.

Obesity during pregnancy can be dangerous for mother and child — it increases the risk of many complications, including stillbirth.

Doctors report that bigger babies are at a high risk of shoulder dystocia — where the shoulder gets stuck during the delivery. It is a potentially life-threatening condition, which can compress the umbilical cord or put pressure on the baby’s neck, leaving it dangerously starved of oxygen. In extreme cases, it is necessary for the obstetrician to break the baby’s collarbone, in order to deliver it alive, which runs a high risk of nerve damage.

To combat such problems, earlier this year, the NHS announced a trial to put obese mothers-to-be on diabetes medication to reduce the amount of insulin in their bloodstream — thus controlling the baby’s weight gain. (Obese women make more insulin than other mothers-to-be, which leads to more fat, sugars and other foods being supplied to the baby.)

‘While most people think the bigger the baby, the healthier it is, there is mounting evidence to suggest the opposite: in fact, babies carrying too much weight at birth will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives,’ says Dr Daghni Rajasingam, a consultant obstetrician and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. ‘They are more prone to diabetes and heart disease and are affected at a younger age.’

Some studies suggest there may also be a link between excessive birth weight and asthma, allergies and even certain cancers.

‘While most people think the bigger the baby, the healthier it is, there is mounting evidence to suggest the opposite’

‘Research on rats found that rats born to overweight mothers may grow up to be more prone to overeating,’ says Dr Rajasingam.

‘So the mother’s weight may have a neurological, as well as physiological, impact on her child.’

Rising obesity rates mean that more women than ever are at risk of developing gestational diabetes — a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and which can be another factor in the rise of super-sized babies. Diabetes UK says that 3 to 5 per cent of pregnancies are affected by the condition, but researchers in the U.S. believe the true number could be closer to 16 per cent.

Although the condition tends to disappear after the birth, those mothers who suffer gestational diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes later in life — and their children are, too.

Gestational diabetes is thought to be the cause of baby JaMichael Brown’s extraordinary 16lb 1oz birth weight, which made news around the world last month.

Nicknamed The Moose by doctors at Longview Hospital in Texas, JaMichael weighed as much as an average six-month-old when he was born by Caesarean section. He became the new poster-child for mega-babies — but is nowhere near the biggest. The record for the heaviest surviving newborn has stood since 1955, when a baby boy was born in Italy weighing 22lb 8oz.
Eat healthily: Doctor warn that being obese when pregnant is bad for mother and baby (posed by model)

Eat healthily: Doctor warn that being obese when pregnant is bad for mother and baby (posed by model)

Back then, gestational diabetes was less common, but clinicians were also less able to control it, says Denise Linay, a midwife with 30 years’ experience and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Midwives.

‘We are far more able to manage the condition now. So although obesity puts mothers more at risk of developing the condition, diabetic women are less likely to have big babies today than they were decades ago,’ she says.

But while medicine has advanced to control gestational diabetes, doctors still find it hard to gauge if mothers are carrying a mega-baby — as Stephanie Railton knows.

The 43-year-old’s fourth son, Charlie, was her heaviest baby at a whopping 13lb 4oz at birth and now, at three years old, he is already wearing clothes designed for boys five years older.

Stephanie, a teacher from West Yorkshire, who is 5ft 11in and wears a size 18, expected Charlie to be big — she weighed 9lb 5oz at birth and her three older children, Amber, Beth and Sam, from a previous relationship, weighed 10lb 10oz, 10lb 11oz and 11lb 9oz.

But as Charlie’s stock control manager dad Richard, 42, is just 5ft 6in — and not as tall as the father of Stephanie’s other children — she had hoped her newborn would be smaller. However, days before the birth her bump measured an incredible 60 inches across.

‘The scans gave some indication of size, but at no point did anyone say: “Oh, he’s going to be enormous.” But as the weeks went on, I started to get a bit panicked. I was an older mum and worried how I’d cope with a difficult delivery.’

Denise Linay concedes the technology to estimate a baby’s weight prior to birth doesn’t exist.

‘You can take measurements, do scans and make an estimate — but it’s not always accurate,’ she says.

Indeed the estimates are often so out they are laughable — which has serious implications when it comes to delivering super-size babies.

Just as Stephanie feared, the labour was extremely hard and she suffered a serious tear and required surgery as a result.

‘They say your babies get bigger each time,’ she says. ‘With my track record, my next child could weigh over a stone! That’s an experience I can live without.’

Which explains why she is in no doubt about one thing: never again. Daily Mail

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