When a mother is diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), this means that the fetus fails to meet typical development benchmarks before birth. Technically speaking, these infants weigh less than the 10th percentile of the normal weight range, with the mother’s abdominal circumference registering at below the 2.5th percentile. Throughout a woman’s pregnancy, the medical team is responsible for monitoring the growth of the fetus, taking action if the condition is suspected. Failure to do so may result in significant injury to the child and may entitle your family to receive financial restitution.
Most Common Causes of IUGR
Infants may fail to reach normal weight or height in utero for a variety of reasons. The most frequently seen include the following:
- Problems with the placenta. This organ provides the growing baby with vital oxygen and nutrients. If it is impaired in some way, this transmission may be compromised.
- Preeclampsia. This persistent high blood pressure develops during pregnancy and may result in elevated protein levels in the urine, decreased blood platelets, kidney, lung or liver difficulties and even visual disturbances and seizures. It can also affect the fetus’s ability to grow.
- Chromosomal disorders, including Down’s Syndrome or anencephaly.
- Infections such as toxoplasmosis, rubella and syphilis contracted by the mother.
- Multiple fetuses (twins, triplets, etc.).
- Smoking or drug use during pregnancy.
In addition to tobacco and drug use, there are certain medications that have been linked to extremely low birth weight in babies. In particular, the medication Depakote, prescribed for conditions such as epilepsy, seizures and bipolar disorder, can cause several complications in addition to IUGR. These include spina bifida, fetal death, hydranencephaly and neural tube formation. Lexapro, a drug often prescribed to treat depression and anxiety, is thought to cause low birth weight and smaller head size in over 17 percent of the births examined in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study.
In some instances, IUGR’s cause is unknown. Possible culprits may be related to the smaller size of the parents. Another hypothesis is that mothers living at higher altitudes may be more susceptible to having babies with IUGR.
Risk Factors Contributing to IUGR
Although it is not always possible to trace the origins of IUGR, certain factors can put a mother at higher risk of carrying a baby with this condition. They include the following:
- Clotting disorders.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
- High blood pressure or heart disease.
- Poor nutrition.
- Kidney disease.
For babies with IUGR, potential physical injuries or deficits include the following:
- Low blood sugar.
- Difficulty regulating body temperature.
- High red blood count.
- Meconium aspiration.
- Cerebral palsy.
- Learning disabilities.
- Injuries associated with a c-Section birth.
- Still birth (death of the baby, usually occurring if the infant’s weight falls below the fifth percentile.
How IUGR is Diagnosed and Treated
If detected early enough, the symptoms and effects of IUGR can sometimes be reversed. If a physician suspects IUGR, they will usually perform a series of ultrasounds that look at the fetus’s estimated weight, organ development and movement. Furthermore, the baby’s heart rate will be monitored and doppler flow studies conducted to assess the status of the placental blood flow. All of these examinations are designed to help the medical team determine the cause of the IUGR so that the proper treatment can be recommended.
The most common intervention for IUGR is to place the mother on bed rest in order to improve the baby’s circulation. In addition, low doses of aspirin (150 mg or less per day) during the third trimester have been found to be effective in improve fetal head circumference and weight. Even during the initial trimester, many physicians prescribe aspirin, which has been found helpful in preventing preeclampsia and lowering the risk of IUGR.
In some severe instances, the only option is to induce labor early. This happens if the medical team determines that the baby’s health prospects would be better outside the womb even in spite of the risks associated with pre-term delivery.
Although there is not currently a known way to prevent IUGR, there are interventions that can be performed to minimize its effects. These include the following:
- Be sure the baby is placed on a fetal heart rate monitor. This can help to detect distress and prevent asphyxia at birth.
- Perform a C-section. In spite of the complications associated with it, this mode of delivering the baby can reduce the chances of fetal hypoxia and meconium aspiration syndrome, both of which are complications that can happen if a baby has a low birth weight.
Most infants with IUGR have a positive prognosis, often growing to normal weight and measurements by the end of the first three months. Even so, research suggests that there may be long-term consequences of this condition, including developing hyperactivity, clumsiness and Type 2 diabetes and hypertension as adults.
If you believe that the low birth weight of your baby was not detected or treated properly by your medical team, it is important to contact a birth injury law firm right away. You may be entitled to a financial settlement that will help you to deal with the short- and long-term consequences of this condition.