Babies are sometimes called small for gestational age (SGA) or small for dates (SFD). Most babies that are smaller than expected will be healthy. But up to 10% of pregnancies will be affected by FGR and will need close monitoring during pregnancy. In some cases, you may need to give birth earlier than expected.
What causes FGR?
FGR can happen when the placenta is not working well enough to provide the baby with the nutrients they need to grow normally. However, we don’t always know why FGR happens.
Is there anything that increases the risk of FGR?
There are several things that can increase the risk of FGR. The most common risks are:
- if you have previously had a small baby, pre-eclampsia or stillbirth
- if you have had complications earlier in this pregnancy, particularly heavy bleeding
- having a pre-existing medical problem such as high blood pressure, kidney problems, diabetes or heart disease
- smoking, drinking alcohol or using illegal or recreational drugs
- being over 35 years of age.
If you have any bleeding during your pregnancy, with or without pain, it’s very important to get it checked out.
What does FGR mean for my baby?
If your baby has FGR, there is an increased risk of complications in pregnancy. Sadly, this can include stillbirth. But your healthcare team will monitor the baby’s growth and wellbeing closely to reduce the risk of this happening. They will also talk to you about the best time for you to give birth. This is likely to be earlier than your due date.
Being born early and small can also lead to complications after birth. This includes a higher risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and thyroid disease in later life. Some babies may need to spend time on a specialist baby unit (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU).
However, after your baby is born, their growth will not be typically different from other children. Having FGR does not mean they will be smaller than other children when they are school age.
Can I do anything to reduce the risk?
We don’t know why some pregnancies are affected by FGR and some are not. But it is unlikely to be related to anything you have done before or during pregnancy. It is important not to blame yourself.
“I was told by well-intentioned but not medically trained friends to eat more calories, sleep as much as I could and stop worrying, because the worry would be having an impact on my baby’s personality and growth! To my knowledge these comments offer no real help to anyone experiencing this. The best thing to do is to listen to the medical professionals in charge of your care.”
Some things that increase your risk of having a small baby can’t be changed. But there are some things you can do to reduce the risk, including:
- stopping smoking
- taking vitamin D
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- not drinking alcohol
- not using illegal/recreational drugs, especially cocaine.
If you are overweight, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure, which can cause complications leading to problems with the baby’s growth. It can help to maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy.
High levels of caffeine in pregnancy has been linked to low birthweight, as well as miscarriage. Try to limit your caffeine to 200 milligrams (mg) a day. This is about the same as 2 mugs of instant coffee. Use our caffeine calculator to check your caffeine intake.
If you are considered at risk of FGR
How will I know if my baby isn’t growing well?
If you have no risk factors for FGR identified in early pregnancy, your midwife will start to measure your bump from 24 weeks, during your routine antenatal appointments, to check that your baby is growing well. This is a simple test using a tape measure. They will measure your bump from the top of the uterus (womb) to your pubic bone. The measurement should then be plotted on a growth chart in your personal maternity record. If your midwife has any concerns about the baby’s growth from this measurement, you will be referred for an ultrasound scan within 72 hours. This does not necessarily mean something is wrong. The scan is just a more accurate way of assessing the baby's growth.
If you have any risk factors for FGR, the growth of your baby will be monitored by ultrasound scans instead of using a tape measure.
Depending on your medical and pregnancy history, you may also be referred for an ultrasound scan to measure the blood flow to your placenta (this is known as the uterine artery Doppler). This measurement is done at 20–24 weeks of pregnancy. It will determine how often you will need to have ultrasound scans during your pregnancy.
What do I do if I’m worried that my bump isn’t getting bigger?
Baby bumps come in all different shapes and sizes. Although it can be difficult, try not to compare your baby bump to anyone else’s. No two women or two pregnancies are the same. If you are concerned, you can call your midwife at any time.
What happens if my baby is small or not growing?
If your midwife or doctor thinks your baby might have FGR, you will be referred for an ultrasound scan to assess the growth of your baby. During this scan, there will be other tests to check the wellbeing of your baby. These include an assessment of the blood flow through the umbilical cord between the placenta and the baby (umbilical artery Doppler) and an assessment of the fluid around the baby (liquor volume).
Following this assessment, you will be advised how your baby is growing. If it is confirmed that your baby has FGR, you will need further scans to monitor the pregnancy more closely until your baby is born. The frequency of these scans will depend on the size of your baby and blood flow measurements in the umbilical artery. You may also be asked to have a tracing of your baby’s heart rate, known as a cardiotocograph (CTG). Your healthcare team may also discuss the benefit of delivering your baby before your estimated due date (EDD).
If the umbilical artery Doppler test is abnormal, you may also be referred for a more detailed scan with a fetal medicine specialist.
Monitoring your baby’s movements
It’s very important to monitor your baby’s movements during pregnancy. Most women usually begin to feel their baby move between 16 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. A baby’s movement can be described as anything from a kick, flutter, swish or roll. There is no set number of normal movements. If you think that your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped, it is important that you contact your maternity unit immediately. There is always a midwife available 24 hours a day. Do not wait until the next day to seek advice. This is particularly important if there are concerns about your baby’s growth during pregnancy.
Find out more about your baby’s movements in pregnancy.
Will FGR affect how I give birth?
The majority of women who want one will be able to try for a vaginal birth, if there are no other complications. But it is likely that you will be advised to give birth early. This may just be a week earlier than your expected date of delivery or it may be several weeks before, depending on how your baby is. Some babies may be too small to go through labour and a vaginal delivery, so you may be advised to have a caesarean section. Your healthcare professional will talk to you about what they think is best.
You may be advised to have your baby in a hospital where there is a specialist baby unit (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU). This is because your baby may need extra care, especially if they are very small and born early (prematurely). Not all small babies will need to go to NICU.
Depending on when and how you are going to have your baby, you may be offered steroids to help your baby’s lung development and reduce the chance of breathing problems after birth. You may also be offered magnesium sulphate, which is a medicine given before delivery to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy.
Will FGR affect my next pregnancy?
If you get pregnant again, the risk of having a small baby again is slightly higher. But you may be able to reduce your risk by trying to live a healthy lifestyle. It can help to:
- not smoke
- eat a healthy, balanced diet
- not drink alcohol
- not use illegal drugs or recreational drugs, especially cocaine
- work with your healthcare professional to make sure any long-term conditions, such as diabetes, are managed well.
In your next pregnancy, your doctor may recommend that you take low-dose aspirin (150mg) at night from 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Try not to worry too much if you want to get pregnant again. Your care will likely depend on what risk factors you have, but if you’ve had a small baby before, your healthcare team will monitor you closely during your next pregnancy.
If you need someone to talk to, call our midwives pregnancy line on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or email [email protected].