Posted by: momecology | September 25, 2009

The 19 pound baby: there’s a reason they aren’t normally this big

In news that is making every woman who ever delivered a baby vaginally feel faint, the world is making much of the fact that an Indonesian woman has given birth to a 19 pound baby boy.

In general, the coverage is jocular and congratulatory — news anchors are mewling things like “Oooh, more to love”. The overall tone implies there’s we’re all competing to produce the biggest baby.  Any moment someone is going to chest-slam the mom.

The coverage is starting to burn my bacon. There’s a reason we aren’t all producing babies this size, and it isn’t just because we’d like to be able to sit down sometime in the year after giving birth. Really big babies are dangerous. In general, there is light-hearted skipping over the details: the baby is this size because his mother had gestational diabetes; he was delivered via a prolonged, difficult C-section; the only pictures of the mother show her unconcious.  Living as we do in the age of surgery, it’s easy to gloss over the fact that both mother and child would have died (rather horribly) if vaginal delivery had been the only option. This is what we biologists refer to as “natural selection”; as recently as 100 years ago (and right now, everywhere that mothers lack access to modern medical care), every mother with the tendency to make babies this big would have died, and the baby with her, before she could make any more.  That’s why babies are generally small enough to fit down the birth canal.

The child himself is in danger of post-partum hypoglycemia (likely the cause in this case of reports that the baby has a giant appetite), with a risk of seizures or breathing problems.  If the mom’s diabetes was not well-controlled (which the production of a super-sized baby would tend to imply), the baby is at risk of a range of birth defects resulting from poor blood flow to the placenta. And in any case, he’s way, way overweight, with all the health heartaches that implies. The size of his face? That’s fat.

A 19 pound baby is hungry all the time because his pancreas is overproducing insulin. Not so much to celebrate about.

Guess which kid is hungry all the time because his pancreas is overproducing insulin?

In the U.S., if you are getting prenatal care, gestational diabetes tends to get detected long before your child starts getting in-utero recruitment calls from the Rams. A knowledgable doctor will do everything that can be done to control the diabetes. So, you know, I’m glad mom and baby survived. And you can call me a killjoy. But I’m wondering why no one is asking why she didn’t have better prenatal care, and I’m wondering why the Indonesians would advertise the failings in their care of pregnant women, instead of celebrating her baby’s dangerous size.



  1. I clearly have been living under a rock because this is the first I’ve heard of this, but … holy geez! That poor baby! I hope all turns out well for mama and baby, but you make a valid point. This is clearly a severe failing in prenatal care and it’s a wonder THAT fact isn’t more publicized.

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