Pregnancy and Childbirth: Fetal Growth Restriction

With fetal growth restriction, also known as intrauterine growth restriction, a baby in the womb is smaller than normal. This means the baby is not growing at a normal rate.

Healthcare provider doing ultrasound exam on pregnant woman.

Causes of fetal growth restriction

Fetal growth restriction results when a baby does not get enough oxygen and nutrition in the womb. One possible cause is certain health problems in the mother. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease. Other possible causes are a genetic disorder or an infection in the baby. This condition is much more likely if the mother smokes, drinks, or abuses drugs. It's also common when the mother is pregnant with more than one baby.

Diagnosing fetal growth restriction

During routine visits, you and your baby are closely monitored. This is done with ultrasound tests. Also, the height of your uterus (fundal height) is measured. A baby with fetal growth restriction will have smaller ultrasound and fundal height measurements. Doppler ultrasound is used to measure how well the placenta is working. To look for a genetic problem or infection, amniocentesis may be done. This tests a sample of the fluid taken from around the baby (amniotic fluid).

Treating fetal growth restriction

The growth of a baby with fetal growth restriction will continue to be closely monitored. Any treatment depends on the cause. If the mother smokes, drinks, or uses drugs, stopping is essential. In other cases, treatments may include:

  • Bed rest. This helps increase blood flow to the placenta.

  • Taking care of yourself. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with a caloric intake that is recommended for a pregnant woman. Also, be sure to continue your prenatal visits with your healthcare provider.

  • Medicines. These treat health problems such as high blood pressure.

  • Early delivery of the baby. This may be needed if the baby’s health is in danger.

Your healthcare provider can discuss the best treatment for you and your baby.

Long-term concerns

A baby diagnosed with fetal growth restriction may have health problems after birth. These include trouble fighting infections or keeping a normal body temperature. With treatment and close follow-up, babies may catch up in growth. In some cases, babies have long-term health problems. Your healthcare provider can tell you more.