Intrauterine growth restriction is when babies aren’t growing adequately inside the womb. It’s difficult to say exactly how much a fetus weighs when it’s inside the mother, but if its estimate weight is below the 10th percentile, it’s considered to have IUGR. Babies with IUGR may be born small and/or undernourished.
Risks of IUGR
IUGR can put the baby at risk for certain complications during pregnancy, birth, and even after delivery. Some of these risks are:
- Low birth weight
- Decreased oxygen
- Low blood sugar (also known as hypoglycemia)
- Difficulty enduring the stresses of natural vaginal birth
- Susceptibility to infection
- Meconium aspiration – Breathing problems due to inhalation of the newborn’s first stool, which is prematurely expelled during a stressful labor instead of after birth
- Low Apgar scores – Apgar tests evaluate a newborn’s health and assess its need for specialized care
- High red blood cell count
- Fluctuating body temperature
Causes of IUGR
Many different conditions can lead to intrauterine growth restriction, but one common denominator of these causes is the placenta.
The placenta is responsible for feeding the baby, providing oxygen, and eliminating waste. If the placenta isn’t able to do its job, the baby won’t get enough nutrients to grow to a healthy weight. Here are some common conditions that affect the placenta:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Lung disease
- Infections such as toxoplasmosis, rubella, or syphilis
- Smoking, alcohol use, or substance abuse
Carrying multiple gestations (twins, triplets, etc.) also increases the chances that one or more than one fetus will have IUGR.
How Will My Doctor Assess for IUGR?
We have a handful of methods available to estimate the baby’s size while in utero.
This is the most commonly used method for monitoring the progress of the fetus. Ultrasounds can be used to measure the fetus’s head and abdomen, which can provide a basis for calculating weight. It can also measure the volume of amniotic fluid in the uterus.
Weight of the mother
Your weight is measured and recorded at each doctor’s visit. If you are not gaining weight appropriately, it can negatively influence the baby’s weight gain as well. Your physician will be able to tell you how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy based on your specific case.
A Doppler flow is a special ultrasound that measures blood flowing through blood vessels. Your OB-GYN can use this method to see how well blood is flowing in the umbilical cord and in the vessels in the brain.
This is when the doctor tests the amniotic fluid to check for infections or other abnormalities. The amniotic fluid is obtained from the uterus through a needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen.
In this test, the doctor will place small electrodes on the skin of your abdomen to measure the baby’s heart rate.
Sometimes, IUGR happens to even the healthiest of women. It is important to attend all of your prenatal appointments so that your OB-GYN can keep an eye on your baby’s development. Stay healthy by eating nutritiously and getting at least eight hours of sleep each night. As always, avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other unhealthy substances.
Improve your diet
Research has shown that when the mother improves her nutrition, those healthful effects are passed onto her fetus.
Get plenty of rest
It is always important to get adequate amounts of sleep. However In certain cases, bed rest may be recommended. Whether at home or in the hospital, bed rest has been shown to improve circulation to the fetus, enabling it to get more oxygen and nutrients from the placenta.
Deliver the baby
In severe cases, the doctor may recommend an early delivery. Your medical team may induce labor or perform a Cesarean section depending on your individual case.