Baby’s Stomach Measuring Small On Ultrasound? Could It Be Fetal Growth Restriction (FGR)?

If your baby’s stomach is measuring small on the ultrasound, it could be due to the issue of Fetal Growth Restriction (FGR). It can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, and if the stomach is smaller, then it could be of the asymmetrical type where the head of the baby is slightly larger than the body. The cause of delayed growth could be health issues suffered by the mother carrying the baby, the fetus itself, or intrauterine issues. The most common cause remains to be chronic hypertension. FGR can be treated by monitoring the baby’s growth more closely, eating nutritiously, plenty of rest, taking medications, and keeping away from alcohol and smoking that can harm the baby. 

Pregnancy is a beautiful time for the parents and is a time that they cherish for the years to come.

With life developing in the mother’s womb, she ensures that the baby is taken care of by adopting healthy choices to ensure smooth and healthy growth.

And ultrasounds are a way to keep a check on the developing fetus and if they are accomplishing their growth goals by the time they are supposed to.

At such a time, if you find out a specific body part is measuring small, it can become a complicated thing to deal with for you and your partner.

The baby’s stomach measuring small isn’t always something to worry about, but sometimes it might be a sign of fetal growth restriction (FGR).

Let’s see what it could mean for your baby. And how you can ensure proper growth or avoid FGR from affecting your baby.

Measuring your baby’s growth rate

Before thinking about the worst, you should know that delayed growth doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with your baby.

Sometimes it’s normal, and your baby can catch up to their growth goals while in the womb and come out fine.

All babies grow at different rates, and some are simply born a bit smaller than others. Measurements aren’t always accurate, but looking at ultrasound can give a clearer picture of issues.

The growth of babies is also influenced by their ethnic background.

You might also measure small because of the wrong due date. This can happen if you remembered the first day of your last period incorrectly or ovulated later than usual in your last cycle. 

Your doctor will review your earliest ultrasound and the date of your period.

If they’re consistent and your baby is still measuring less than the 10th percentile for gestational age, your baby will be diagnosed with FGR.

Fetal growth restriction (FGR)

Fetal growth restriction or earlier known as Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), means your baby’s growth rate is delayed more than the average growth rate for the number of weeks of pregnancy.

The baby is measuring less than the 10th percentile for gestational age. This means the baby weighs less than 9 out of 10 babies of the same gestational age. 

With FGR, the baby might face trouble growing up the way they are supposed to. 

This delay in growth can also be of two forms: symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Babies who suffer from symmetrical FGR have a normally proportioned body and are smaller than an average baby.

But for asymmetrical, the babies in this category have slightly larger heads than their bodies.

If you observe a smaller stomach of the baby in ultrasound, your baby might come in this category. 

Fetal growth restriction causes

A pregnant woman is sitting down because she's feeling pain

The causes can determine why there is the slow growth of the fetus. There are different causes, including maternal factors, fetal factors, and intrauterine factors.

Some of the issues might arise because the mother suffers from various health issues, others might be because of the problems with the fetus, and the rest could stem from health conditions developing in the uterus. 

  1. Slow growth is expected if there is an issue with the umbilical cord or the placenta, the organ that delivers oxygen and nutrients to your baby’s womb. The placenta might not be functioning properly or is improperly formed or starting to detach from the uterus. A placenta that’s too low in the uterus may slightly increase the risk of IUGR. 
  2. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic hypertension or preeclampsia, and other issues such as kidney or heart disease, certain anemias, advanced diabetes, blood clotting disorders, autoimmune disease, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, or serious lung disease. 
  3. Then there could be a possibility of a chromosomal abnormality such as Down syndrome or structural birth defects, such as anencephaly or defects in the kidneys or abdominal wall.
  4. Alcohol or drug use
  5. Smoking
  6. Malnutrition or poor nutrition 
  7. Excess weight to the point of being obese

It can also be an issue if more than one fetus, such as twins, triplets, or more. It’s reportedly affected 25% of twin pregnancies.

It could be because more than one fetus is prone to an uneven share of blood and nutrients between them.

They also share blood vessels and amniotic sacs, so FGR is more prevalent.

Complications arising due to FGR

And a baby born with FGR might also show other issues after being born, such as:

  • Low birth weight
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Lower body temperature
  • High level of red blood cells
  • Trouble fighting infections

Ultrasound to measure babys growth

A gynecologist is doing an ultrasound on her pregnant patient

If a doctor suspects FGR, they perform an ultrasound to get a clearer picture of the baby and what parts could be smaller affected by FGR.

Ultrasound can measure the baby’s head and abdomen, which is then compared to the average growth chart to estimate the baby’s development.

This can also determine how much amniotic fluid is in the uterus. A low amount of amniotic fluid can also suggest FGR.

How to treat FGR?

Knowing that your baby might be growing at a delayed pace can be worrisome, and so if you find out your baby’s stomach is measuring small on the ultrasound, you try to find ways to make sure your baby is born healthy.

The kind of monitoring required to handle the situation also varies on the severity of the issue.

It’s based on the ultrasound (estimated fetal weight) and Doppler ultrasound (blood flow to the baby). The steps taken are also affected by how many weeks you’re currently pregnant.

Steps taken to make sure FGR is removed include:

  1. Once doctors find out about the FGR issue, they would start to frequent prenatal visits to closely check the baby’s growth. Tests would also be conducted repeatedly.
  2. It’s not doctors keeping a check on the fetus, but you should be able to keep a record of your baby and their movements too. Your doctor will probably let you know how to make sure you can keep track more correctly.
  3. Corticosteroid medicine
  4. Hospital stay
  5. Early delivery or emergency cesarean

Ways to prevent FGR

A pregnant woman is eating healthy to prevent risk of FGR

Facing various health conditions can definitely increase the risk of FGR. But even healthy mothers can go through it.

There’re always things to be careful about to make sure you’re preventing the chances of FGR:

  1. Make sure you’re attending all your prenatal appointments to know when there’s a problem with the fetus and start treating it as soon as possible.
  2. Whatever medications you’re taking, make sure they’re prescribed by the doctor. Sometimes certain medicines can impact the baby.
  3. Eat healthy food and make sure to get all the nutrients and vitamins through food and supplements.
  4. Avoid habits of drinking alcohol and smoking or taking drugs.
  5. Getting plenty of rest and staying away from stressful situations. 

FAQs

Do IUGR babies survive?

It depends on the current growth rate of the baby.

There can be ways to avoid risking the pregnancy and the fetus by closely monitoring the baby and making sure they can catch up to their ideal growth by taking more nutrients and vitamins and taking steps in that direction.

There’re cases where the babies don’t survive the birth, or even if they do, they die soon after.

The death rate of babies suffering from FGR is 5-20 times higher than normally grown infants, and many babies cannot catch up to their ideal growth rate. 

How early can IUGR be diagnosed?

IUGR is normally diagnosed in the second or even third trimester.

Usually, when you attend all your prenatal appointments, doctors can tell if the growth is normal by looking at your stomach and how far along you are in the pregnancy. 

If they detect delayed growth, they might perform a few tests to see if the baby does have FGR. 

Do IUGR babies go to NICU?

It depends on the factor causing FGR that doctors might decide on the right treatment plan.

It also includes associated birth defects or genetic conditions and the gestational age at delivery.

In severe cases, IUGR babies may require longer stays in the NICU and the highest level of respiratory support. 

To summarise

Every parent hopes to have a healthy baby born to them. Parents make sure they take several steps to ensure it. But sometimes, even after taking a lot of care, the baby in the womb might show delayed growth.

FGR could be caused due to several reasons, including health issues faced by the mother or issues with the fetus.

While some things can be done to ensure the baby is born healthy, there’s no surety.

As a parent, you can always do your best and provide a healthy and safe environment for the baby in the womb.

Eating healthy and nutritious food, getting enough rest, and keeping away from habits bad for your body, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, can significantly reduce the risk of FGR.

As a writer for 1happykiddo, Saumya wants to help new parents and older siblings help raise the newest member added to the family. Her parenting tips come from her experience of being 15 years older than her youngest sibling. When not writing, you can find her reading novels, traveling, and cooking nutritious meals.

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