IVF twins and triplets 'behind increase in low birth weights'
The rising number of women having twins and triplets after IVF treatment is one of the reasons why Ireland is among countries which are seeing more babies being born with a low birth weight, a global study reveals today.
Around 5.9pc of live births were small babies in 2015, the findings showed.
This compared to a low birth weight rate of 4.9pc in 2000, which left Ireland missing targets, along with countries such as Portugal and Spain.
The study found that more than 20 million babies were born with a low birth weight - less than 2,500g (2.5kg) or 5.5lb - in 2015, accounting for around one in seven of all births worldwide.
The problem remains significant in better-off countries in Europe and North America, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, where there has been virtually no progress in reducing low birth weight rates since 2000, the analysis in the 'Lancet Global Health' journal showed.
Asked to comment on Ireland's rates, obstetrician Prof Michael Turner, director of the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction at the Coombe Hospital, said that overall the incidence of low birth weight in Ireland had been remarkably stable over the past decade.
"The slight increase overall in births less than 2,500g can be explained by an approximate 30pc increase in multiple births due to the rise in births after IVF," he said.
"The incidence in single births remains 3.8-3.9pc over a decade, despite clinical and sociodemographic changes in pregnancy."
Prof Turner said that "nonetheless, the prevention and diagnosis of low birth weight remains an important priority, because it is associated with major increases in perinatal mortality and morbidity".
"It also is associated with increase cardiovascular disease later in life," he said.
"The most important modifiable risk factor for low birth weight in Ireland is persistent maternal smoking.
"Women who stop smoking in the first half of pregnancy can prevent their baby being malnourished at birth."
The research was carried out by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Unicef, and the World Health Organisation, involving 148 countries and 281 million births.
In 2012, all 195 member states of the WHO committed to a 30pc reduction in low birth weight prevalence by 2025.
The study indicates that at the current rate of progress -with a 1.2pc yearly decline in low birth weight rates between 2000 and 2015 - the world will fall well short of the annual reduction rate of 2.7pc required to meet the target.
One of the lowest rates of low birth weight in 2015 was estimated in Sweden at 2.4pc, while it is as high as 7pc in the UK and 8pc in the United States.