Do Babies Born at High Altitudes Weigh Less?

Is it true that babies born at high altitudes weigh less than ones born at lower altitudes?
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By Jennifer L.W. Fink, Registered Nurse
Updated March 2, 2017
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Yes! Believe it or not, babies born in Leadville, Colorado, a city with one of the highest altitudes in the United States, weigh less, on average, than babies born elsewhere in the U.S. The difference isn’t great — just a few ounces — but it does exist.

In fact, Colorado has one of the highest low birth weight rates in the nation (more than 8 percent). Low birth weight can be attributed to other factors, such as improper nutrition, smoking and inadequate maternal weight gain. But there’s no escaping the fact that Colorado’s high altitudes might play a role as well. How? No one knows for sure, but it’s thought that low birth weights have something to do with the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. When mom lives in a low-oxygen environment, there’s less blood flow to the uterus, which means that the baby receives slightly less oxygen. The theory: Less oxygen = a slower metabolism = slower growth = a smaller baby.

The exception is when the mom’s ancestors have lived at high altitudes for many generations. Example? Babies born at high altitudes to Andean women weigh an average of nine ounces more at birth than babies of European women at similar altitudes, and experts think it’s because the women’s bodies have adapted to the low-oxygen environment.

But don’t panic. Since the weight difference between high-altitude babies and low-altitude babies, especially in the States, is slim, it’s not likely your baby will have health problems because of his birthplace’s altitude. If you live at a high altitude and are really concerned, eat right, see your doctor regularly and snuff out that cigarette. Right now.

_—Larry Kieft, MD, OB/GYN, Poudre Valley Medical Group, Fort Collins, Colorado

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