Why is my baby not growing?

About 10% of pregnant women hear the chilling news that their child is not thriving well in the womb. From then on it’s a race for survival. However, for all but a small percentage of these women the prognosis is good as long as you’re under the care of an LMC, who will most likely send you on for multiple scans to check how baby’s doing. You may need to have a Caesarean section or will have an induction to get baby out.

This is what happened to Laura Fogg (pictured above left) who was told at 38 weeks that her unborn baby was too small. “The real risk here is that your baby could die,” the obstetrician informed her.

“It turned out that [Laura’s baby] Eva was in the lowest 10% of all babies, which put her in the category of ‘Inter-Uterine Growth Restriction’ (IUGR). For unknown reasons my placenta wasn’t working as well as it should, and Eva wasn’t getting the nutrients she needed,” says Laura.

Feeling guilty

Like many mothers in her position Laura felt guilty for failing to supply enough nutrients for her baby. But no amount of healthy eating and nutritional supplements would have made any difference.

“I couldn’t understand why my womb wasn’t sustaining my baby, why she couldn’t get enough nutrition from me when that was my main job as a mother,” says Laura.

She had an induction three days before her due date and Eva arrived safely in May, 2012.

Doctors don’t know what causes the condition IUGR but they strongly suspect it’s related to cardiovascular or blood flow issues which, for many women, link back to a hereditary issue.

Pre-eclampsia is strongly linked to growth restriction and acts as a warning bell for baby’s growth in the womb.

But while it’s a worrying time for anyone facing this problem for about one in every 2000 pregnant women it’s literally a matter of life or death. When babies’ growth problems are picked up early – when under 28 weeks gestation – the matter becomes much more serious. If these severe cases need to be delivered before 28 weeks the risk of death or a longterm handicap is close to 70%.

Working on a cure

Several studies are getting under way to help these most extreme cases. In New Zealand a trial involving Viagra – which was already being used in some cases for pre-eclampsia – will start towards the end of the year. This will look at using Viagra to relax blood vessels and allow nutrition to flow to baby.

Around the world, research into the problem is gathering momentum, with melatonin and iron supplements also on trial.

For the lucky majority, like Laura, the outcome is the safe delivery of a longed-for child, even if it’s not the best start in life.

“Eva was born at 2.7kg, and had all the signs of IUGR. Her head was a normal size, as babies first preserve nutrition for their growing brains. However her little body, arms and legs were so skinny, with the skin all dry and wrinkly.

“She also struggled to latch on as she was so tired and sleepy, but after five weeks of expert help we eventually got fully breastfeeding,” says Laura.

“In the early weeks Eva cried for hours on end, experiencing colic and reflux, which was very hard to cope with. It’s apparently a sign of having being stressed in the womb, as babies then find the outside world quite scary to deal with.

“But one year on, and Eva is doing really well. She is now toddling about, starting to talk and loving discovering the world.”

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