Low birth weight (less than 2500 grams) is the greatest risk associated with infant mortality and morbidity. In the United States, death in the first four weeks of life is forty times higher for low birth weight (LBW) infants than it is for normal weight infants, and accounts for twothirds of all neonatal deaths. For very low birth weight infants (1500 grams or less), the relative risk of a neonatal death is almost 200 times greater than it is for normal weight infants (Institute of Medicine, 1985). LBW infants are also five times more likely to die later in their first year than are normal weight babies, and account for twenty persent percent of postneonatal deaths (Kessel, 1984). In 1986, the United States ranked nineteenth among industrialized nations with respect to the death of infants less than oneyear old, with 10.4 deaths per onethousand births (The National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality, 1988).
Background on Health and Societal Implications of Low Birth Weight
Morbidity reports indicate that LBW infants are at increased risk for neurodevelopmental congenital anomalies,
including permanent disabilities, learning disablilities, lower respiratory tract infections, iatrogenic complications, and other nonspecific morbidity (Institute of Medicine, 1985). Further, low birth weight is a significant problem to society in terms of health care delivery, loss of life and/or productivity, family dysfunction (including child abuse, and severe financial problems for the family unit), and a disproportionate use of national resources. As an example, for the 20 percent of low birth weight infants who experience lingering disabilities past the first year of life, the need for extraordinary care ranges from special educational programs to lifelong institutionalization (McCormick, 1985). In 1983, the estimated total cost of neonatal intensive care in the United States was $3.1 billion (Minnesota Coalition o...