The prevailing attitude towards newborns’ weight gain in the first month of life is that greater weight gain is negatively linked with cardiovascular health down the line. Rapid weight gain in the first month of life can be indicators of obesity and diabetes down the road, as well.
However, a new study is showing that babies who gained 40 percent of their birth weight during the first four weeks of their lives had an IQ of 1.5 points higher by the time they were 6 years old when compared to their lighter peers who only put on 15 percent of their birth weight that first month.
This study came from a team of Australian and Canadian researchers who followed 14,000 babies from birth until they were 6 years old. All of the babies were in Belarus, and all were healthy according to the study.
According to Dr. Lisa Smithers, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Adelaide and the one in charge of this study, the findings of this research are not surprising:
Other pieces of the literature pointed to this kind of effect, but nobody’s really also looked at that really early period, those first four weeks of life… This was additional to that other research which says growth in the first year [is important]; well, actually what we’ve shown is growth in those first four weeks is also very, very important.
This by no means shows that parents should force-feed their children as soon as they are born to be sure that they gain 40 percent of their birth weight. In fact, Dr. Beverly Muhlhausler – also from the University of Adelaide – is asking that more research be done in order to find out just how much weight is healthy for a baby of that age. She says, “It may be growing a bit faster is associated with higher IQ later on, but may also be associated with an increased risk of metabolic disease… Considering which one of those is more or less desirable is very difficult. So I think there’s probably still too early to go out and make any recommendations in terms of changing the growth profile we are currently recommending.”
While it might be too early to decide how much weight a baby should gain and what weight gain has to do with a baby’s health or IQ, these findings are incredibly interesting. The idea that a baby’s first four weeks of life can be important enough to determine IQ or patterns of behavior that might lead to other issues later in life isn’t entirely new, but this is one of the first studies to prove it.
Photo Credit: Bridget Coila