Obstetricians and expecting parents can use a prenatal growth chart to help track infant development during pregnancy. Although babies grow at different rates, a doctor can refer to a fetal growth chart to determine if there is something alarmingly abnormal happening with the baby. Some of these charts include pictures of what the fetus should look like at each stage of development. Expectant parents can download prenatal growth chart software to know what to expect in fetal and pregnancy development.
Many pregnancy and parenting websites have charts that show average fetal length and weight for each week of gestation. Full-term newborns can vary greatly in length and weight. The further along in pregnancy, the more likely it is to see deviations in the growth of the fetus. A prenatal growth chart usually includes an average length and weight for the baby or a range that normal babies should fall into.
Early growth charts of up to 20 weeks of gestation measure from the top of the head to the bottom of the fetus's rump. After 10 weeks, a prenatal growth chart should switch to head-to-toe measurements. The prenatal growth chart may also include a list of identifiable organs and body structures that should be present as gestation progresses.
The prenatal growth chart can also be helpful in planning for the baby's arrival. In some cases, mothers may have difficulty pinpointing the date of conception, which makes it difficult for her obstetrician to ascertain a due date. The doctor may use a prenatal growth chart to help determine an expected time frame for delivery.
Most expecting parents are anxious to know how well their babies are developing. They may be given a prenatal growth chart that includes fetal milestones including development of body structures and senses. This helps parents bond with their unborn children. Most parents see only a small number of ultrasonic images of the fetus, so graphical growth charts help parents to visualize their new baby as it grows and develop in the womb.
A prenatal growth chart may also help expectant mothers to understand how their bodies are changing during pregnancy. This tool can help them plan for some of the symptoms of pregnancy and understand if what they are experiencing is normal. These charts may include expected weight gain and abdominal measurements during pregnancy.
A doctor may also use a prenatal growth chart to help determine if there is a problem with fetal development. A developing baby that is excessively larger than the normal range may be at risk for gestational diabetes or another problem. Although many fetal growth charts are available, most Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) use the Babson and Benda Fetal-infant Growth Graph to determine the development of preterm babies. Babies that are much smaller than their developing peers may suffer from genetic abnormalities and may need extra care during development and delivery.