Slow Fetal Growth

In ancient times, Chinese doctors would have diagnosed the condition ‘Fetus not Growing’ entirely from the size of the pregnant woman’s abdomen which is, of course, a very unreliable indicator of fetal growth. In modern medicine, this condition is diagnosed on the basis of ultrasound scans.

Etiology and pathology

The only cause of slow fetal growth is the mother’s deficient Blood and/or Kidneys failing to nourish the fetus properly. This deficiency may either be constitutional or derive from inadequate nourishment during pregnancy.

Prognosis and prevention

Chinese medicine can be of help in the treatment of slow fetal growth, especially considering that Western medicine has no treatment to offer. A pregnant woman experiencing this problem should make absolutely sure that she has a diet rich in Blood-producing foods, especially meat products. As mentioned before, Chinese medicine maintains that meat products specifically nourish the Governing, Directing and Penetrating Vessels. Unless there are very strong ethical objections, if the prospective mother is vegetarian, she should be advised to take some meat for a limited period, considering it as a medicine. If she has aversion to eating meat, drinking chicken broth would be a good compromise. Ideally, the broth should be made from a hen and using the whole chicken, i.e. including head and feet. This should be mixed with vegetables such as onions, carrots, scallions and celery. Chinese herbs such as Huang Qi Radix Astragali, Dang Gui Radix Angelicae sinensis and Ren Shen Radix Ginseng can be added. She should also absolutely avoid overworking and take plenty of rest.

Western view

Fetal growth may be measured according to uterus or fetus size. When measuring uterus size, one normally measures the distance between the symphysis pubis and the fundus of the uterus: the fundal height should increase by about 1 cm per week from the sixteenth week onwards. With an average-sized fetus, the distance between the symphysis pubis and the fundus of the uterus (fundal height) should equal in centimetres the number of weeks of pregnancy, give or take 2 cm. For example, at the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, the fundal height should be between 22 and 26 cm. The above measurement can be distorted by several factors such as obesity, abdominal tenseness and the lie of the baby. A much more accurate measurement of fetal growth is provided by ultrasound scans, usually based on the measurement of the fetus’s abdominal circumference at liver height, biparietal diameter, cranial circumference and femoral length. Factors which may affect fetal growth include hypertension, diabetes, multiple pregnancy, previous growth-retarded baby and previous perinatal death.