Health Problems Associated With High Birth Weight in Infants

We all love photos of babies with full cheeks and thick rolls of skin, but the fact is that high birth weights are associated with various health problems at birth and after birth for both the baby and the mother. Some risks include the development of certain cancers, difficult labor and delivery, diabetes, heart disease and in some cases, post neonatal death.

Post Neonatal Death

Normal birth weights average around 7 pounds 8 ounces. Babies born above the 90th percentile relative to a fetal growth standard are typically diagnosed with high birth weight, also known as infant macrosomia. The neonatal death rate rises higher for infants born with low birth weights compared to those with high birth weights, but the risk for post neonatal death among high birth weight infants is particularly high among North American Indian infants between the ages of 4 weeks to 1 year, according to a study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal as reported in Science Daily 1.


According to an article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a study conducted in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland produced results indicating a high birth weight is associated with an increased risk of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) 23. More specifically, a birth weight of 8.8 pounds (4000g) or more is associated with a higher risk for ALL. When researchers considered sibling birth weight, they found that babies diagnosed with ALL did not statistically weigh more than their siblings, but the study does indicate an association with high birth weight and ALL in the overall study.

Difficult Labor and Delivery

High birth weight is associated with a difficult labor and delivery. Many women giving birth to larger babies end up needing a cesarean delivery. A cesarean delivery is considered major surgery and usually requires a longer hospital stay and a longer recovery time for the mother. Cesarean deliveries place the mother at a higher risk for infection, excessive blood loss, blood clots and bowel problems. Cesarean deliveries place babies at a higher risk for injury, breathing issues and a greater need for intensive care.

Increased Risk for Breast Cancer in the Mother

According to HealthDay, high birth weight babies may indicate a higher risk for breast cancer in the mother 13. Of course, a large baby does not cause breast cancer, but a larger baby may indicate an increased level of particular pregnancy hormones which increase breast cancer development. A long-term study conducted in the United States, outlined in HealthDay, produced results indicating that women who gave birth to high birth weight babies were twice as likely to develop breast cancer than women who gave birth to smaller babies 3. Women carrying larger babies cannot alter their hormone levels, but healthy eating habits, exercise and breast-feeding can help reduce their risk for developing breast cancer.

Other Complications

High birth weights place babies at a greater risk for injury and bruising during the birthing process, even if a cesarean delivery is not required. Babies born with higher birth weights are at a greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Mothers of larger babies are at a greater risk for developing gestational diabetes than mothers of lower birth weight babies.

Although the information about health problems associated with high birth weights in infants may seem overwhelming, expectant mothers can take steps to reduce complications during and after birth. Mothers who watch their own weight gain during pregnancy, get plenty of exercise, eat healthy foods and get a healthy amount of rest can decrease their risk for complications.