Underdeveloped Pregnancy

Slower growth than normal of a pregnant woman’s womb at a given stage of the pregnancy. This often reflects retarded growth in the baby. Slow growth is usually detected during a pregnancy check, because the uterus is either not growing at all or is not growing enough. The growth is measured by the rise in the roof of the uterus as measured against the mother’s pubis and navel and the curve of her ribs. For example, when the pregnancy reaches 20 weeks, the uterus is normally at the level of the navel. If it is found that the uterus is too low, this does not in itself mean that the pregnancy is underdeveloped. The first question is whether the supposed duration of pregnancy is correct. The pregnancy may have begun later because of a menstrual cycle of more than four weeks, and in such cases a low uterus is in fact entirely normal. A pregnancy can be confirmed as underdeveloped only after repeated measurements. The diagnosis can be made with greater certainty with the aid of an ultrasound examination (echography). In this technique, a picture of the baby is formed by the reflection of sound waves. The dimensions of the head and other parts of the body are compared with standard values or with the results of measurements taken in previous examinations. Retarded growth of the baby is usually caused by a malfunctioning placenta. The quantity of oestriol in the mother’s urine over a 24-hour period is measured in order to obtain an idea of the baby’s condition and the function of the placenta. Oestriol is a hormone produced in the baby’s adrenal cortex. It passes into the mother’s blood via the placenta, and the mother excretes it in her urine. The production and excretion of this hormone are reduced if the placenta is malfunctioning (in association with an underdeveloped baby). Repeated measurements are necessary then too. Retarded growth can be countered by bed rest and a salt-free diet, because this improves the blood supply to the placenta. Frequent hospital visits are necessary for the mother to be monitored and reassured. If the retarded growth has not been made good by about the 34th week of pregnancy, a decision has to be taken as to whether there is any point in the foetus remaining in the uterus. If the baby’s condition worsens, it may be better to induce labour early and to place the baby in an incubator.

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