April 17, 2009
Big bundles of joy
Heftier newborns are a growing trend, thanks mostly to better nutrition
By Melissa Sim
BLAME it on good food that babies are getting bigger.
It is a phenomenon seen here and in the developed world, such as in Britain, Canada and Australia, where better maternal nutrition, genetics and improved delivery techniques have delivered heftier bundles of joy into the arms of parents.
On April 2, teacher Gladys Tay, 33, gave birth to her first child, Oxley Sun, who tipped the scales at 5kg when newborns tend to weigh around 3.2kg.
The father, Mr Sun Qin, 33, an actuarial assistant manager, said even their doctor was surprised, as he had expected the baby to be slightly over 4kg.
Added Madam Tay: 'When the nurse pushed him into the room, she said my baby looked like he was three months old.'
Dr Fong Chuan Wee said that Oxley, delivered by caesarean section at Gleneagles Hospital, was one of the biggest he has seen. In 30 years of practice, he has delivered only three or four newborns weighing 5kg or more.
Bigger babies are a growing phenomenon not just here. Dr Christopher Chong, from Chris Chong Women and Urogynae Clinic at Gleneagles Hospital, cited an Australian study which found that the proportion of large babies in Australia had increased by 18 per cent for boys and 21 per cent for girls from 1990 to 2005.
While there is no similar study here, Dr Devendra Kanagalingam, consultant of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Singapore General Hospital, said it was 'fair to say that the upper limit is probably creeping up'.
The normal range quoted by doctors here is 2.5kg to 4kg.
Much of the rise has to do with better nutrition. Everyone is eating more, said Dr Chong, and children are growing bigger.
In fact, that old adage of eating for two may hold true.
Associate Professor Tan Kok Hian, chairman of the obstetrics and gynaecology division at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), has noticed babies becoming slightly heavier because more of their mothers are becoming overweight in pregnancy and falling prey to diabetes.
Madam Tay had gestational diabetes in the later part of her pregnancy, and the higher glucose levels in her blood could have led to her baby being bigger.
It is also possible that babies will get bigger because of natural selection.
Dr Devendra said larger babies might not have survived the journey down the birth canal before, and would likely have died during birth. But improvements in medicine have allowed the 'genetically bigger babies to survive, and so their children are also likely to be bigger'.
Still, big is not always better.
After delivery, parents should ask to check if the baby's blood sugar is low, which could cause convulsions.
Dr Chong added that parents may have to look out for more severe cases of jaundice.
Big babies may also be at risk of obesity and diabetes later in life. Parents should not overfeed a baby as big as Oxley, warned Dr Fong.
But for now, a newborn weighing 5kg is still a rarity. In KKH, there are at most five born each year out of about 13,000 deliveries, said Prof Tan.
There were about 40,000 babies born last year in Singapore.
The heaviest baby recorded by the KKH since 1999 was 5.5kg, in 2002. Thomson Medical Centre had one weighing 5.7kg in 2001.
Baby Oxley's health is in the clear and his nanny Helen Fong, 57, from GPLS confinement care agency, commented that he is easier to care for, because his bones are not as soft.
As for the Suns, they are enjoying their blessing.
Said Mr Sun: 'He's become a talking point among our colleagues and friends. But it really doesn't matter how big he is, as long as he's healthy.'