Low Birth Weight

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A baby’s growth and development are impacted by nutritional consumption during pregnancy and after birth.14, 15 Babies who do not receive the optimal nutritional requirements at pregnancy tend to be “small for gestational age”.1 After birth, babies who are born weighing less than 2 500 grams are considered as babies with low birth weight and need to have their nutritional needs met in order to correctly develop and grow. 2 Premature babies, born before 37 weeks, also need to have their nutritional requirements met, since they do not attain nutrition from a full pregnancy period. 3,4
Premature babies tend to be low birth weight babies and are commonly referred to as preterm low birth weight babies or infants.13

Babies who are small for gestational age, low in birth weight, or premature are an important public health concern, especially in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.6,7,8  These babies need to have their nutritional needs met in order to correctly grow,  develop, and to build an immune system, which is crucial for their survival and long-term health.9,10 Meeting the nutritional requirements for these babies could help prevent complications including  developmental delays, neurodevelopmental issues, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.3,13

Nutritional support for preterm and low birth weight babies may include specialised formulas, fortified breast milk, as well as additional vitamins and minerals to meet their increased nutritional needs. Babies who are usually very small or sick usually get their nutrition and fluids through a vein (IV). 3 In order for typical cases of low birth weight and premature babies to meet their nutritional requirements, they could be given:

  • Breastmilk, and if needed, a supplement called human milk fortifier. This supplement offers additional protein, calories, iron, calcium, and vitamins.3
  • Babies fed formula may need to take supplements of certain nutrients including calcium, protein, folic acid, and vitamin A, C, and D.3

In addition to the need for preterm babies and low birth weight babies to meet their nutritional requirements for correct growth and development, these babies tend to require energy through nutrition for thermoregulation.5,11 Incubators or special warmers can, however, be used to help babies maintain their body temperature, reducing the dependency on their own energy to stay warm.3


A common problem regarding preterm babies is the fact that they are not yet mature enough to coordinate functions such as sucking, breathing, and swallowing.3,12 Illnesses can also interfere with a newborn's ability to orally feed. These illnesses include breathing problems, low oxygen levels, circulation problems, or blood infections.3

This section covers different nutritional approaches to prevent or manage these public health concerns, promote nutritional intake, and highlights the importance of good nutrition for the health of infants and its long-term benefits. Nutritional trends and practices are continuously evolving, and we strive to stay up to date to benefit healthcare practitioners in their daily practice.

Browse through the scientific resources supplied by the Nestlé Nutrition Institute Africa for use in your daily practice and/or studies.

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Preterm Feeding

Highlights of the 2022 ESPGHAN guidlines on preterm infant feeding

Read Professor Mihatsch’s presentation on Highlights of the 2022 ESPGHAN guidelines on preterm infant feeding, presented...

NICU is complex

Human Breast Milk for preterm infants

World Prematurity Day

Small actions: BIG IMPACT

Preterm infants

New ESPGHAN guidelines for enteral nutrition: Practical aspects

Using nutrition to reduce the effects that toddlers face when born pre-term

Using nutrition to reduce the effects that toddlers face when born pre-term


Josephine M. Murekezi is dedicated to improving the health of pregnant women in Rwanda

born too early

Strategies in Neonatal Care to Promote Optimized Growth & Development: Focus on Low Birth Weight


Promoting breastfeeding for healthy brain development

Preterm Babies

Caring for Preterm and Low-Birth-Weight Infants in Resource Restricted Environments

Nutritional Interventions To Improve Brain Outcomes In Preterm Infants

Nutritional Interventions To Improve Brain Outcomes In Preterm Infants

Feeding the fetus

Feeding the fetus