Your Growing Belly: What Your Bump Reveals about Baby

Too big? Too small? Pregnancy bumps come in all shapes and sizes. Find answers to common questions about the size of your expanding belly.

All pregnancy bumps are different, so it’s no wonder that some women worry their pregnant tummies might be too big, too small, or the wrong shape. Some women even fear that their belly size may reflect a health problem for themselves or their baby. Fear not. Here are some common questions and answers regarding the size of that mysterious pregnancy bump.

Is My Bump the Right Size?

It is a common myth that big bumps mean big babies—and likewise, that a small bump means a small baby. In most cases this is just not true (but some moms still worry that their baby is “the wrong size”). Chances are, if you are tall and have good muscle tone, you will carry high and your tummy might not be very noticeable. Conversely, if you are small and are carrying a big baby, your bump will most likely be truly present for all to see.

In Queen Charlotte’s Hospital Guide to Pregnancy & Birth, author Adriana Hunter writes that there are two obvious ways of assessing whether a fetus is developing normally: by measuring the height of the fundus (the distance from your pelvic bone to the top of the uterus, a distance that grows by about one centimeter a week); or by assessing fetal size through abdominal palpation.

“If your baby is found to be smaller or larger than expected this could mean that your dates are not accurate and further measurements taken using an ultrasound scan will probably be able to assess the exact age of the pregnancy and you may be given a revised due date,” explains Hunter. “If your baby is indeed smaller, or larger, than expected but its stage of development implies that your dates are correct, the fetus is said to be ‘small-for-dates’ [SFD] or ‘large-for-dates’ [LFD] respectively.” Hunter adds that neither of these notations are necessarily cause for concern, but instead may be used by your doctor as a sign to rule out more serious problems. This is particularly the case with LFD babies, because it may mean that the mother will need a Cesarean section.

Katie Cowan knows all about having an LFD baby. Her first child weighed more than 10 pounds at birth, and her second baby is measuring large also. “I didn’t really realize that I was so huge during my first pregnancy until the end. When the week of my due date arrived and a woman in the supermarket asked me if I was having twins, I knew that I was abnormally large. I am now expecting my second baby and I am 26 weeks along. Just last week a man stopped me in the street and said, ‘Due any day, aren’t you?’ I am getting used to the comments and the size of my belly now.” Cowan adds that she also blames the large babies on her husband’s genetics, since his mother had gigantic babies, the smallest of which was nine pounds, 10 ounces.

Incidentally, Cowan’s doctor isn’t concerned about the size of her baby either, yet her doctor doesn’t want Cowan to have a 10-pound baby as she did last time. So, Cowan will be induced at least a week early in this pregnancy.

Large babies seem to run in the family for Katie Cowan, but for most LFD babies this isn’t the norm. “One of the most common incidences of large-for-dates babies is in mothers who have diabetes: the excess of blood sugar passing through the placenta are turned into fat stores under the baby’s skin,” says Hunter. “Women who are themselves overweight are also more likely to have large-for-dates babies.”

The most important implication with a LFD baby is that the mother will be unlikely to have the baby vaginally because of the disproportion between the size of the baby’s head and the mother’s pelvis. In these cases, the mother may be induced or given a preterm Cesarean section to avoid further complications. In such cases, the baby might require special care due to its premature birth—despite its large size.

On the other extreme are SFD babies. Hunter says that a baby may grow more slowly than expected for a number of reasons. These may be connected with the mother’s lifestyle or general state of health. For example, if the mom-to-be is underweight and fails to gain weight during pregnancy, exercises excessively, or if she has an ongoing illness (or becomes ill during pregnancy), she may have a small-for-date baby. Complications of pregnancy, such as repeated vaginal bleeding or placenta previa, also increase the likelihood of having an SFD baby.

Hunter adds that if the mother’s lifestyle is implicated, it is possible to improve the fetus’ growth rate if the mother has the willpower to make the changes. If the mother engages in a healthy lifestyle, the fetus can potentially catch up completely with its expected weight. And if the problem is related to illness or a complication, good nutrition and as much rest as possible—coupled with safe treatment for specific conditions or complications—are the best ways of improving fetal growth.

Is My Bump the Right Shape?

A bump’s position and shape are often the topic for hot debates among the more superstitious. Some people swear if you are carrying high or wide, it’s a girl; and if you are carrying low or out in front, it’s a boy (of course, there is no medical proof to back this up).

The actual shape of the bump itself, not only the position, can cause prospective mothers some concern. In most cases your baby will be head down, and face down, in your uterus; however, a small percentage of babies assume different positions. If your baby is lying sideways (the transverse position) then it is no wonder that your bump may look a little “different” until your baby changes position.

Will Size Determine Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks (striae gravidarum) are most common on the abdomen, but can also develop on the breasts, thighs, buttocks, and hips. About half of pregnant women develop stretch marks, and although their cause is not well understood, stretch marks have been linked to increased pregnancy hormones and stretching of the tissue under the skin.

Pregnancy and Birth: Your Questions Answered, by Dr. Christoph Lees, MD, Dr. Karina Reynolds, MD, and Grainne McCartan, adds, “Stretch marks are not directly related to how much your stomach has had to expand. They are probably connected with the collagen and elastin content of your skin. The marks can be red and livid in pregnancy, but in the weeks and months after the delivery, they lose their color, usually become silvery-white and less obvious.” Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to prevent stretch marks. Creams, oils (such as vitamin E), and other moisturizing treatments have not been shown to prevent stretch marks—but they do, however, help alleviate dry skin and may reduce itching.

If you have any questions about the size or appearance of your belly, consult your healthcare provider or midwife to put your mind at rest. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—they’re they to help you.

The most important thing to remember is that all pregnancy bumps are different. Likewise, comparing tummies with other pregnant friends can be a lot of fun, just don’t get too worried if your bump is smaller (or larger) than someone else’s. If you are doing all you can to ensure the safety and health of your baby, you will find that your bump worries are just part of the pregnant package. So, enjoy every minute of the experience!

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