Understanding Intrauterine Growth Restriction

Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is defined as a fetus that is smaller in size than would be expected for the conception age. Here is information to help understand the causes, diagnosis and possible treatments of intrauterine growth restriction...
by Patricia Hughes
fetal imageIntrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is defined as a fetus that is smaller in size than would be expected for the conception age. The threshold generally used for classifying a baby as having intrauterine growth restriction is being smaller than the tenth percentile. This means that over ninety percent of fetuses at the same stage of development are larger than babies classified as having IUGR.
Possbile Causes of IUGR
The exact cause of intrauterine growth restriction is not known, but there are several factors thought to contribute to growth restriction in the fetus. Some of these factors are related to the baby or the pregnancy and others are maternal factors. Pregnancy related factors include multiple pregnancies, problems with the placenta and birth defects. Maternal factors include health factors such as heart or kidney disease, substance abuse, malnutrition and smoking cigarettes.
How IUGR is Diagnosed
Diagnosis is often made during a routine ultrasound during the pregnancy. The technician takes measurements of the head and abdomen. If these are smaller than would be expected, it can indicate a problem. The growth may be observed in subsequent ultrasounds before a definitive diagnosis is made.
Sometimes the condition is diagnosed at routine prenatal visits. At these visits, the mother’s weight is checked and the fundal height is measured. This is the measurement from the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus. It generally corresponds to the number of weeks of the pregnancy, for example at 32 weeks you would measure 32 centimeters. When the measurements and weight gain is less than normal, it can indicate IUGR.
Treating IUGR
Diagnosing IUGR as early as possible is critical for effective treatment. There are some things that can be done to minimize the effects. These include nutrition, treating substance abuse issues, bed rest, or in extreme cases, early delivery. How your case will be treated depends on the severity of the growth restriction, your health and your baby’s health.
Throughout the remainder of the pregnancy, your health care provider will monitor your baby’s health closely. You may have more frequent ultrasounds and additional testing to check the condition of the baby. These may include a biophysical profile, non stress tests and kick counts. You doctor will instruct you to count your baby’s movements once or several times each day. This involves counting movements for a specified period of time and gives good information about the baby’s health.
Can you Preventing IUGR?
There is no 100% guarantee. The best way to treat intrauterine growth restriction is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. There are several things you can do that may help prevent intrauterine growth restriction (always consult with your health care provider): 
  • Pay attention to nutrition to avoid IUGR caused by malnutrition.
  • Get treatment for substance or alcohol abuse as early in the pregnancy as possible
  • Quit smoking
  • Get regular prenatal care to ensure early diagnosis and effective treatment.
  • Diagnose and treat any medical issues in the mother to avoid contributing health factors, such as kidney or heart disease. 
Here is a patient handout from the American Academy of Family Practitioners with more information on managing IUGR:
Biography Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express permission of More4Kids Inc © 2008

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