When my son was born, he weighed in at a very solid 8 pounds,13 ounces. In 2012, that raised a few eyebrows and elicited some empathetic grimaces from fellow moms. But just a few years later, my “big guy” now seems kind of average. Especially compared to these bouncing babes…
In 2014, a 14.5-pound baby was born in Massachusetts. In 2015, there were a number of babies born who weighed between 12.9 and 14.7 pounds. And in 2016, not to be outdone by the Western mothers, a 19-year-old mother in India gave birth to a 15-pound baby girl.
To say the least, those were some big babies! To put those numbers into perspective, consider this: An average baby weighs around 7.5 pounds at birth.
Are babies really getting bigger?
It’s not our imaginations that babies have been getting bigger in recent years, and it’s not just that the internet is whipping everyone into a frenzy. According to research, there has been a 15 to 25 percent increase in babies weighing 8 pounds, 13 ounces or more in the past 20 to 30 years in the developed world. This was, as a reminder, my son’s weight at birth — apparently the weight at which babies are considered “oversized” nowadays. The medical term for that is “macrosomia,” but “very big baby” will do in casual conversation.
This is a source of endless fascination for people, though men and women tend to have very different reactions to this phenomenon.
Men hear about it and think, Oh, wow, that’s crazy. And then they move on.
Women, on the other hand, involuntarily shrink inward, break into a cold sweat and think, Dear God, how does that happen? Could that happen to me? Even women who aren’t planning to have more children — or who don’t plan to have any children at all — can’t help but feel extremely empathetic in their lady parts because they’re all too aware that even the biggest baby has to come out somehow. And, well, ouch.
So, exactly how is the baby going to get out?
You might think the moms of these big babies would all need to have C-sections. Indeed, there’s a much greater likelihood of needing one if you have a bigger baby, but, believe it or not, that’s not always the case. Yes, that’s right: A 15-pound baby can be delivered vaginally. That’s how a little (or not-so-little) bundle of joy named George King came into the world in 2013.
Baby George weighed in at 15 pounds, 7 ounces and was reportedly the second-biggest baby ever to be delivered naturally in the United Kingdom. But it was not an easy delivery: His head and shoulders got stuck, and he was without oxygen for five minutes. Doctors — and there were 20 present to assist at his birth, according to the baby’s mother — gave him only a 10 percent chance of survival. But he defied the odds and not only survived but ended up leaving the hospital healthy a month later.
But that’s where things can get scary with supersized babies. One of the big risks when delivering a baby with macrosomia is a condition called shoulder dystocia, where the shoulders can get stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone. Doctors can solve this issue more easily when delivering smaller babies, but it can be much more difficult with larger children. It can lead to a dislocation of the baby’s shoulder or, more commonly, a fracture of the baby’s clavicle (collar bone), as well as cause tearing or pelvic-floor damage for the mother.
But to leave this on a happy, less frightening note: Large babies can absolutely be delivered safely. Earlier this year, an Australian mom gave birth naturally — with only laughing gas to ease the pain of labor — to a 13.4-pound baby boy without any complications, aside from not being able to fit into any of his newborn clothes, that is.
Why are babies getting bigger and bigger?
That’s the question on everyone’s mind, but there’s no single answer.
For some women, gestational diabetes (GD) plays a role. Nearly 18 percent of pregnant women may be diagnosed with this pregnancy-only form of diabetes, in which the body cannot regulate blood sugar properly. Aside from dangers for the mother during pregnancy, including being at a higher risk for preeclampsia, GD can produce a particularly large baby. GD also increases the risk of premature birth, which means the baby could be born with underdeveloped lungs. Later in life, babies born to mothers who had GD are also at a greater risk of developing obesity and diabetes.
Even without gestational diabetes, maternal obesity can play a role in creating a supersized baby. But plenty of plus-sized women also give birth to small or average-sized babies. Still, to increase your chances of having a healthy-sized baby, you’ll want to keep your own weight in check before you get pregnant, as well as eat well and exercise regularly during your pregnancy.
How do I know if my baby is at a healthy weight?
Healthy babies come in all shapes and sizes. That’s important to remember when yours makes its big debut. Keep this in mind over the course of the first month: Every kid grows at a different rate because every kid is different!
One big thing that first-time parents may not realize is that babies always lose weight immediately after birth. A 5 to 7 percent weight loss is normal for formula-fed newborns, while breastfed babies may lose up to 10 percent of their initial birth weight. All babies, both formula-fed and breastfed should be back up to their birth weight within 10 to 14 days. That said, your doctors will closely monitor your baby’s weight and suggest interventions if they’re concerned.
Something else to keep in mind: Breastfed and bottle-fed infants also gain weight at different rates. Plus, while you can’t overfeed a baby when breastfeeding, formula is a different story. If your bottle-fed baby is gaining a lot of weight quickly, your doctor may have questions about feedings. For example: If your infant cries, do you immediately respond with a bottle? Are you sure that’s what your baby wants — not a diaper change, a burp, or a cuddle? Understanding your baby’s cues is the key to feeding your baby the right amount.
Being a new mom is stressful, especially when it comes to feeding your baby and, let’s face it, also when it comes to nearly everything else. It’s tough to remember what to ask your doctor. Here are some handy lists of questions to ask so you leave your appointment armed with information you want about your baby’s weight and size.
To sum up the big-baby talk…
It’s easy to get wrapped up in how big our babies are at birth, especially if they were indeed large. But it’s important to remember this: Your little one is still very little, and what’s most important is creating healthy habits from here on in. If you know what’s normal and appropriate, you’ll be able to keep your baby well-fed, healthy, and happy.
The bottom line: Be healthy and active during your pregnancy, start your prenatal care visits early, and then relax. You can only do so much to control your baby’s birth weight. Personally, I like to think of this as good training for motherhood. Life with kids rarely goes according to plan. You just have to roll with it and hope for the best. And you know what? It’s usually all fine in the end.
Dawn Yanek lives in New York City with her husband and their two very sweet, slightly crazy kids. Before becoming a mom, she was a magazine editor who regularly appeared on TV to discuss celebrity news, fashion, relationships, and pop culture. These days, she writes about the very real, relatable, and practical sides of parenting at momsanity.com. Her newest baby is the book “107 Things I Wish I Had Known with My First Baby: Essential Tips for the First 3 Months.” You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.