Intrauterine Growth Retardation

Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR) is a condition where the baby in the womb is not growing as well as it should. It happens as a result of reduced blood flow through the placenta – which is the source of baby’s nutrition. IUGR occurs in about 3% to 5% of pregnancies and is usually accompanied by decreased amniotic fluid around the baby.

Why Is Baby Not Growing Normally?

Poor nutrition or excessive smoking, drinking or usage of illicit drugs is most often the main cause for Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR). Medical problems in the mother, like high blood pressure, obstetric complications or even a prescribed medication could cause IUGR.

But most of the time, the causes of IUGR could be beyond your control. And contrary to common perception, all small babies do not have IUGR. Just as there are different sizes of infants, children and adults, there are also different sizes of babies in the uterus. Small babies tend to run in families – and the parents or other children in the family may have been small when they were born too.

And it is reassuring to note that only about one-third of the babies who are small at birth have IUGR. The rest of them don’t have IUGR – they’re just smaller than normal.

How Is IUGR Diagnosed?

During pregnancy, your doctor will be conducting several routine tests to monitor if your baby is growing normally. These tests would reveal if your baby has IUGR:

Ultrasound – During an ultrasound, your doctor will measure the size of your baby’s head, abdomen and legs. These measurements will help your doctor find out if your baby is growing normally. The amount of amniotic fluid is also monitored as it is found to be particularly low in babies with growth restriction. If your baby is small, ultrasound exams may be done more often than usual to check your baby’s health.

Fetal Monitoring – Straps are put over your uterus as you lie down for about 30 minutes and your baby’s heartbeat is recorded. Your doctor can look at the heartbeat recording and see if your baby’s heartbeat is normal.

Amniocentesis – A needle is put through your skin into your uterus. A few teaspoons of amniotic fluid are withdrawn in the needle and the fluid is tested to see if it shows any traces of IUGR. An amniocentesis is also performed to diagnose genetic problems or infection.

What Can I Do To Prevent IUGR?

Keep track of your baby’s movements and make sure your baby is moving every day. A baby who moves around often is usually healthy. A baby who doesn’t move very often or who stops moving may be sick. If you notice your baby isn’t moving as much, call your doctor.

Another way you can help your baby is to get a lot of rest. Rest helps you feel better and may even help your baby grow. Try to get 8 hours of sleep (or more) each night. An hour or 2 of rest in the afternoon is also good for you. Finally, if you smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, this is the time to stop as it can hurt your baby.

My Baby Has IUGR: What Next?

Sometimes, babies with IUGR keep on growing in the uterus. If your baby keeps gaining some weight, an early delivery (before the due date) may not be needed.

But if your baby is not growing at all or has other problems, your doctor may decide that an early delivery could help. Your baby’s heart rate and movements will be closely watched to help your doctor decide if a vaginal delivery is possible. If baby is too weak, a C-section is a safer option.

Babies who are small at birth need to stay in the hospital until they can breathe and be fed normally. After your baby is born, the doctor will check your baby’s weight to make sure the baby is growing. Generally, babies stay in the hospital until they weigh about 2.3 kilograms and can breathe and feed normally.

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