This is according to the DRIGITAT study conducted by Amsterdam UMC together with UMCG, in which 17 other Dutch hospitals participated. The study was published today in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
About 10 per cent of unborn babies are smaller than normal for the gestational age. Pregnant people get growth ultrasounds to see how big the baby is. If a baby is small, the pregnant person will get ultrasounds more often to see if the baby is growing properly. In the DRIGITAT study, small babies were additionally given a Doppler measurement. This ultrasound measures the resistance of the blood vessel in the umbilical cord, which tells something about the blood flow to the placenta. The ultrasound can also measure the blood flow in the baby's brain. If this flow is higher than usual, this could be a signal that the placenta is not functioning properly. The baby has then "opened" the blood vessel in the brain an extra amount to protect the brain from the shortage caused by a malfunctioning placenta. With a placenta that functions inadequately, the risk of the baby developing health problems or, in rare cases, dying around birth increases.
Higher risk better detection and monitoring
Doppler measurements are not standard practice in all hospitals, but this study shows that they definitely add value when caring for undersized babies. With a Doppler measurement, the higher risk of problems around delivery can be better detected and monitored. Also, small babies in whom measurements are normal can be monitored somewhat less intensively. There is then also a greater chance that labour will proceed naturally, without intervention.
No delivery earlier than 37 weeks
The study also looked at whether it would be better for babies in whom the Doppler measurements showed abnormalities for labour to be induced before a gestational age of 37 weeks. This did not lead to better outcomes. The recommendation is to wait to induce labour until at least 37 weeks' gestation. This is because it is more beneficial for the baby to stay in the womb as long as possible, as long as there are no additional risks of health problems.