IUGR: Intrauterine Growth Restriction

pregnant woman getting an ultrasound

If you've never been diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), chances are good that you don't know what it is. IUGR is a condition that occurs during pregnancy when an unborn baby is not growing at a normal rate. Although some babies are simply small (not related to IUGR), pregnant women with IUGR will have babies that are not able to be defined according to standard growth charts.

There are two types of IUGR - Symmetrical and Asymmetrical. Symmetrical IUGR is identified when a baby is proportionally small all over the body. Asymmetrical IUGR happens when a baby's head is normal-sized, but the rest of the body is disproportionally smaller.

pregnat mom having an ultrasound

Causes & Prevention of IUGR

IUGR is a serious condition and can lead to a number of health problems including stress on the baby during birth, low birth weight, inability to maintain body temperature, and decreased oxygen levels, among others. All of these are dangerous to the health and longevity of a baby's life.

One of the major causes of IUGR is a lack of nutrients getting to the baby. Another cause is a lack of proper oxygen getting to the baby. Although there are many reasons why nutrients and oxygen may not reach the baby, some common causes are chromosomal birth defects or placenta issues. If the placenta is not working properly or is not attached properly, the baby will be affected.

Other possible causes of IUGR include:

  • exposure to certain infections like the measles

  • exposure to toxoplasmosis (a parasite commonly found in cat litter)

  • mother's smoking or using alcohol or drugs (even some prescription drugs)

  • genetic disorders

Signs & Symptoms of IUGR

Is it possible that you have IUGR? Make sure you're keeping up with all your prenatal appointments. It's important that you have a doctor that knows you and your body, and is tracking your pregnancy regularly. Proper nutrition, healthy living, and taking prenatal vitamins are also crucial.

One sign that IUGR may be an issue is the size of your pregnant belly. Twenty weeks into your pregnancy, your doctor will measure the distance between the top of your uterus and your pubic bone. Those measurements should correspond to a standard growth chart. If it measures smaller, the doctor may suspect IUGR and want some testing done. An ultrasound to measure the baby, and your amniotic fluid may be used as well as weight checks, fetal monitoring, and/or amniocentesis.

woman holding an ultrasound picture

Treatment for IUGR

Treating IUGR isn't impossible, but much of the success of treatment depends on the severity. As a general rule, the earlier it shows up, the more severe it is. It's important to catch it early, to monitor the health of the baby, and address the cause and any other issues as soon as possible.

Although it is not possible to reverse IUGR, it can sometimes be helped through bed rest (especially in the case of a placenta problem), improved nutrition, and delivery. If delivery is necessary, your doctor may want to do a C-section because many babies with IUGR issues are too weak to survive the natural birth process.

Prognosis for IUGR

While many babies who have IUGR can develop normally, many other babies who have IUGR often have difficulties throughout the rest of their lives. These problems can range from moderate to severe and can include everything from breathing problems to being born underdeveloped or premature, to feeding issues, neurological problems and even stillbirths.

A baby born with issues stemming from IUGR may have lifelong problems, but doctors don't like to speculate about what those problems may be since some IUGR babies end up developing normally.