What is Intrauterine Growth Restriction?

H. Lo

Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is a medical condition in which a baby does not grow normally while in the womb and weighs less than a baby usually would at the same gestational age. The baby might have either symmetric or asymmetric intrauterine growth restriction. In symmetric IUGR, the baby is small all around. With asymmetric IUGR, the baby’s body is small while the head and brain are of normal size.

The weakened state of the baby due to IGR may require a C-section.
The weakened state of the baby due to IGR may require a C-section.

There are a number of causes of intrauterine growth restriction. Most commonly, the baby might develop the condition because there is something wrong with the placenta and the baby is not getting enough blood, food and oxygen. In other cases, a birth defect or genetic disorder might be the cause, and infections or diseases can also play a role as well. Lastly, the mother can contribute to the onset of the medical condition by participating in unsafe pregnancy practices such as smoking or abusing alcohol and drugs.

A birth defect may cause intrauterine growth restriction.
A birth defect may cause intrauterine growth restriction.

Babies with intrauterine growth restriction are monitored because of potential health complications. They tend to be weaker than normal-sized babies and are at risk of dying before birth or being stillborn. The weakened state of the baby might require that he is born by cesarean section. In addition, among many other risks, babies with intrauterine growth restriction might have a high red blood cell (RBC) count, a low blood pressure or be more susceptible to infection.

Intrauterine growth restriction may occur as a result of a fetus's exposure to smoke.
Intrauterine growth restriction may occur as a result of a fetus's exposure to smoke.

Just because a baby is small does not mean he has intrauterine growth restriction. For example, the baby might be smaller than usual, but it might be because the mother is small. A doctor will be able to determine whether the baby does indeed have the intrauterine growth restriction. During an ultrasound, the doctor will measure the baby and examine if there is enough amniotic fluid in the uterus. In some cases, other tests might be performed to confirm results.

Treatment options for intrauterine growth restriction are limited. Foremost, the mother should take care to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle while keeping all appointments with her doctor. If the doctor sees that the baby is not growing or is at risk of dying, he might induce labor. A small baby, regardless of whether he was born early, might need to stay longer at the hospital until the doctor is sure that he is healthy enough to leave. It depends on the severity of the condition, but by the time the baby is 2-years-old, his growth will probably normalize.

A doctor may induce labor if he or she sees that a baby is not growing.
A doctor may induce labor if he or she sees that a baby is not growing.

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