Eilish O'Regan: 'No room for complacency as study highlights serious concerns'
The new global study showing Ireland to be among the wealthy countries where the rate of low birth-weight babies has risen is not a cause for panic - but there is no room for complacency.
A baby born under 2,500g - under 5lb 8oz - can be at an immediate health disadvantage.
The average newborn weighs around 8lb.
The rate of low birth-weight in Ireland was 5.9pc of live births in 2015, according to the 'Lancet' figures.
The tiny infant may face difficulties gaining weight and fighting infection while also having problems keeping warm.
Many babies with low birth-weight are also premature and have breathing problems.
It also been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
It is possible to reduce the rate further if more mothers in particular did not smoke during pregnancy.
IVF treatment clinics which help a woman become pregnant from fertility treatment also need to ensure that their techniques minimise the chances of twins or triplets.
A recent survey of all 19 maternity units nationally about their systems in place to help pregnant women stop smoking found only one asked women to undergo a carbon monoxide test.
All units gave women advice verbally on how to quit, but only five units brought up the issue again with the woman later in pregnancy.
It concluded that although smoking is an important modifiable risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes, smoking cessation services are inadequate in the Irish maternity services and there are variations in practices.
Prof Michael Turner, the former master of the Coombe Hospital, said women who stop smoking in the first half of pregnancy can prevent their baby being malnourished at birth.
Meanwhile, the number of women undergoing IVF treatment in Ireland is unclear but runs into the thousands every year.
If more than one embryo is placed in the womb as part of IVF treatment, then there's an increased chance of having twins or triplets.
One of the potential complications is low birth weight.
Prof Turner has also pointed out the need to improve the diagnosis of low birth weight in pregnancy.
This is done by means of foetal ultrasound.
"The provision of antenatal ultrasound surveillance needs to be prioritised in all 19 maternity units, particularly smaller units," he added.