What is Fetal Growth Restriction?
Fetal growth restriction occurs when a baby is born at a lower than normal birth weight. Most babies who are born at full term (full-term is considered 37 to 40 weeks of gestation) weigh between six and nine pounds at birth. A baby that weighs less than five pounds, eight ounces is considered to have a low-birth weight. A low-birth weight or fetal growth restriction can be caused by numerous factors, and babies who are born at a low-birth weight are at risk for certain health problems later in life.
What types of fetal growth restriction are there?
There are two types of fetal growth restriction: primary and secondary. In primary restriction, the baby’s organs are underdeveloped; in secondary restriction, the baby’s head and brain are smaller than normal.
How is it diagnosed?
The physician will determine the baby’s gestational age by using the dates of a woman’s last menstrual cycle. He or she will confirm the baby’s age by measuring the baby through an ultrasound. If the baby’s measurements are small for his or her age, the baby may have fetal growth restriction. The physician may also use the mother’s fundal height to see if there are fetal growth problems. The fundal height is determined by measuring the distance between the mother’s pubic bone and the top of the uterus. After 12 weeks of gestation, the fundal height usually coincides with the number of weeks pregnant the mother is.
What factors contribute to fetal growth restriction?
If the mother-to-be experiences certain health issues or engages in certain lifestyle behaviors, she has an increased chance of having a baby with fetal growth restriction. Some of these factors include:
- Smoking or using drugs and alcohol
- Weight of less than 100 pounds
- Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
- High blood pressure
- Heart, lung or kidney problems
- Infections of the uterus
- Poor nutrition
- Gestational diabetes
The risk for a baby having growth problems can also occur if there are abnormalities of the placenta or umbilical cord, low levels of amniotic fluid, infections in the fetus, birth defects in the baby or if the mom is carrying multiples.
What are the risks to the baby?
Babies who are born at a low-birth weight or have fetal growth restriction are at an increased risk of developing certain health condition. Some of these include:
- Respiratory problems
- Bleeding in the brain
- Heart problems
- Intestinal problems
- Abnormalities of the eyes that can lead to blindness
- Low blood sugar
- Motor disabilities
- Neurological impairments
- Increased number of red blood cells
- Lack of oxygen at birth
- Hearing loss
- Cerebral palsy
- Learning problems
How can a woman prevent fetal growth restriction?
Women should receive proper care from a doctor before conception, to ensure they do not have any health conditions that could affect a baby. The mother-to-be should also consult with her physician about medications that may be helpful if she has a history of premature labor or has had a baby with a low-birth weight. Women can also do the following:
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Take vitamins with folic acid
- Stop smoking and using drugs or alcohol
- Keep all doctor’s appointments
- Ensure health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, are being effectively controlled
- Notify their physician if they are experiencing any signs of premature labor
How is fetal growth restriction treated?
If a mother is less than 34 weeks pregnant, her physician will continue to monitor the baby’s growth. The woman may need to see her doctor frequently, to check the baby’s health, heart rate, and levels of amniotic fluid. If she is experiencing premature labor, her physician may give her medications to stop labor or to help the baby’s lungs develop. If the woman is more than 34 weeks pregnant, the woman’s physician may recommend inducing labor early. Sometimes, the condition can be improved by correcting health conditions in the mother, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
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Harms, R. (2011, June 25). Fundal height. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fundal-height/AN01628