Many babies born to immigrants are being labeled too small incorrectly

February 15, 2012

One of the first things people ask new parents is how much does their baby weigh.

For some immigrant parents, especially , the question may be stressful. Many of their newborns are incorrectly diagnosed as being significantly underweight, meaning they could be at higher risk of developmental issues.

Researchers at St. Michael's Hospital say many of these infants are in fact the correct birthweight for their ethnic group and should not be compared to those of babies of Canadian-born mothers.

The researchers, led by Dr. Joel Ray, have developed the first "newborn weight curves" for specific across Canada. Birthweight curves are graphs used to plot how one baby's weight compares to others of the same age. A baby whose birthweight is in the lowest tenth percentile of the curve is deemed to be "small for " (SGA).

The new curves and his related research were published today in the Journal of Canada.

Dr. Ray examined 760,000 live births in Ontario, which has 55 per cent of Canada's immigrants. He found that babies born to mothers from each region of the world, except Europe and other , had significantly lower birthweights – up to 250 grams less -- than those for infants of Canadian-born mothers.

He found that 67 of every 1,000 babies born to parents from Africa or the Caribbean were at risk of being classified as significantly underweight if plotted on an outdated Canadian curve instead of the new world region-specific curve.

Even more troublesome was his finding that 116 of every 1,000 South Asian babies – more than one in 10 -- were at risk of being misclassified under the Canadian curve.

"That's unacceptable in my mind," said Dr. Ray. "There are all these parents who are very excited about having a baby, and now they might have concerns their baby is not big enough—something that it not true and not especially welcoming."

Dr. Ray also examined how many babies were being incorrectly labeled as too heavy, or in the ninetieth percentile in birthweight. When correctly diagnosed, these babies may need to be delivered early; thus, a misdiagnosis may result in unnecessary elective cesarean sections.

The current Canadian curve misses as many as six in 10 Southeast Asian/Pacific and South Asian babies who are big compared to others in their ethnic groups.

Birthweight is important not just for parents' peace of mind. It is also one of the essential yardsticks used to measure a baby's progress or failure to thrive in its first days and weeks.

"Our findings have potential impact in several ways," Dr. Ray said. "The number of new immigrant and infants affected is sizable, meaning that there is a large target group in need of new birthweight curves."

Secondly, recent immigrants may not understand the implications of having a significantly underweight infant and may lack the linguistic, social, financial or transportation resources to effectively follow-up with pediatric care.

"By implementing our modified birthweight charts, a large number of will be spared an unnecessarily prolonged stay in hospital, special biochemical and genetic testing, and follow-up with a general or developmental pediatrician," Dr. Ray said. "This lowers the burden on not only the child and their parent, but also on limited in-hospital and pediatric clinic resources within the ever-busy GTA. "

Explore further: Mothers' weight before and during pregnancy affects baby's weight

More information: The new curves can be found at

Related Stories

Low birthweight infants have five times rate of autism

October 17, 2011

Autism researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing have found a link between low birthweight and children diagnosed with autism, reporting premature infants are five times more likely to have autism than ...

Premature babies risk mental health problems, say experts

June 28, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Premature or low birthweight babies are more than three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and mood disorders in adolescence than full-term infants, according to psychologists at the University of ...

Recommended for you

Exercise and vitamin D better together for heart health

April 27, 2017

Johns Hopkins researchers report that an analysis of survey responses and health records of more than 10,000 American adults for nearly 20 years suggests a "synergistic" link between exercise and good vitamin D levels in ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
I would have thought that the child's birth weight would have been compared to the mother's pre-gestational weight. One could hardly expect an 8-pound baby to reflect the same state of health, whether the mother's base weight was 100 lb or 200 lb.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
This is one of the dangers of affirmative action laws.

People ARE different.

Another fallout from the 'progressives' eugenics movement a century ago.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.