In fact, physicians begin tracking a baby’s growth well before they’re born, and noticing a slower than average increase in a baby’s overall size and weight can be a cause for concern.
Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), also known as fetal growth restriction, occurs when an unborn baby has a slower than normal growth rate, which is described as being below the 10th percentile. Babies that are still within this percentile range at birth will typically be diagnosed as being small for gestational age.
In the U.S., fetal growth restriction affects approximately 4 to 7 percent of babies, so it’s critical that all parents be aware of the risks and potential negative health consequences that can occur if the condition isn’t addressed during pregnancy.
What causes intrauterine growth restriction?
IUGR can have a wide range of causes and risk factors.
Placenta or umbilical cord issues
In some cases, there could be a structural problem with the placenta itself. If the placenta doesn’t attach well, the mother may be unable to deliver enough nutrients and oxygen to support the normal development of a growing fetus.
It’s also possible that a mother could have poor blood flow due to umbilical cord issues or other reasons that disrupt the blood supply between her placenta and the baby.
Maternal risk factors
Other maternal risk factors that may contribute to intrauterine growth restriction include:
- High blood pressure
- Anemia (low red blood cells)
- Chronic lung or kidney issues
- Autoimmune disorders
- Poor nutrition or low weight gain
- Alcohol or drug use
- Being pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.)
Certain genetic disorders can cause a baby to have slow fetal growth as well as infections in the mother or fetus. For example, a woman who experiences an infection such as pneumonia might not have enough oxygen to support her own needs and those of a growing baby.
What are the signs of fetal growth restriction in newborns?
Occasionally, IUGR isn’t diagnosed during pregnancy. In these cases, there are often signs that indicate that the baby had poor growth during their fetal development. At birth, babies with this condition may present with:
- Low blood sugar
- Low birth weight for their gestational age
- Low body temperature
- High red blood cells
- Difficulty fighting infections
How do doctors diagnose intrauterine growth restriction?
Early identification of IUGR is critical for helping babies get the oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive in the womb. Prenatal visits are the prime time to identify changes in a fetus or woman’s body that indicate a potential problem. Your doctor has a number of tools at their disposal to detect and diagnose IUGR. These include:
- Measuring fundal height. Doctors measure the fundal height, which is the area from a woman’s pelvic bone to the top of the uterus. This measurement (in centimeters) is usually the same as the number of weeks of pregnancy after the 20th week. If the measurement is smaller than average or stops increasing, then the physician should start testing to find out why.
- Fetal ultrasounds. Parents tend to look forward to ultrasounds as a chance to bond with their baby, but doctors use these imaging sessions to check on the baby’s growth. During an ultrasound, they take measurements that give an idea of the baby’s general height and weight.
- Doppler ultrasounds. This type of ultrasound can aid in making an IUGR diagnosis because it measures the blood flow from the placenta to the baby to check for abnormalities.
Can you treat IUGR before the baby is born?
Proper prenatal care goes a long way toward preventing this condition from happening in the 1st place. Women who are encouraged to stop smoking and adopt other healthy lifestyle choices are in a better position to physically support their baby’s growth.
After IUGR is diagnosed, the focus turns towards identifying a potential cause for the slowed growth and correcting it, if possible. For instance, a physician might recommend nutritional counseling for a woman who is malnourished, or they might prescribe medication or treatments, such as bed rest, to help improve blood flow to the fetus.
Women with IUGR also need closer monitoring to make sure that the baby doesn’t experience further distress from delayed growth. This can include more frequent prenatal visits and ultrasounds. Your doctor may also advise you to start tracking fetal movement at home.
If further testing reveals new concerns, then a baby may need to be delivered early. Some physicians may also recommend a Cesarean section (c-section) over a vaginal birth due to concerns about placing additional stress on the baby’s body.
What are the potential long-term complications for babies and parents?
A mother who experiences IUGR during pregnancy is more likely to need an emergency c-section, which puts her and her baby at a higher risk for complications related to undergoing a surgical procedure. The immediate risks for a baby born with IUGR include respiratory distress and an increased risk of infections.
Children with IUGR are also at risk for long-term problems, including metabolic disorders, cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes and obesity.
What can I do if my baby has health problems related to IUGR?
While most physicians strive to provide the highest level of care, medical malpractice still occurs. In the event of a birth injury, parents have the right to compensation if it can be proved that a doctor’s negligence led to a negative outcome for their child.
For example, a physician might not have followed the standard of care to order a follow-up ultrasound after discovering a low fundal height measurement, or they may have failed to treat underlying conditions that contributed to the delayed growth of a fetus.
The time you have to file a birth injury lawsuit, called a statute of limitations, differs according to the state in which you live, but it can be as little as 1 year after the injury.
It’s important to understand that not all injuries are evident immediately after birth, and medical care to treat ongoing health issues can cause extreme financial hardship to families. If you had issues during pregnancy or you suspect your child may have experienced a traumatic birth, it’s vital that you contact an experienced birth injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options and ensure you don’t miss your opportunity to receive compensation.
If you believe your child may have suffered a birth injury, contact Laura Brown at Brown Trial Firm today for your free consultation. Laura has years of experience in birth injury law, helping families like yours across the U.S. get the compensation they deserve.
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