How Do I Know the Baby Is Progressing Normally in the Womb?

By Kristine Tucker
An ultrasound can help determine your baby's growth and development.

The best way to know that your baby is progressing normally in the womb is to keep all of your scheduled OB-GYN appointments and have your doctor perform ultrasounds and other tests to establish the baby's health and development. It's very difficult to assess the baby's progress yourself, and you don't want to falsely assume that anything is wrong or that everything is fine if there's reason for concern. Your doctor will monitor the baby's fetal heart rate, measure your stomach and record your weight gain. She'll also ask questions about the baby's daily movements.

Fetal Heartbeat

Visit your OB-GYN to examine your baby's fetal heartbeat. A baby's heartbeat is audible with a fetal Doppler at around eight weeks. A fetal Doppler is a hand-held ultrasound device that bounces sound waves off your baby's heart, making the heart beats loud enough to hear. You can buy or rent a fetal Doppler, but it's best to allow medical professionals who have had proper training assess your baby's heart rate. A healthy baby in the womb has a heart rate somewhere between 120 and 160 beats per minute, according to maternal fetal medicine specialist, Thomas Moore.

Scheduled Ultrasounds

An ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to take pictures of a baby in the womb and displays them on a monitor. These images help medical professionals determine if the baby is growing and developing according to her age. During the first trimester -- the first three months of pregnancy -- and ultrasound can help medical professionals discover abnormal growth and development of the fetus and check the fetal heart rate. During the second and third trimesters, an ultrasound can monitor the baby's development, check for characteristics of Down syndrome, locate birth defects, examine blood flow show structural abnormalities, monitor amniotic fluid levels and determine oxygen levels, according to Healthline.

Health Risk Screenings

Conduct maternal serum screening tests -- performed by taking blood samples from the mother during pregnancy -- to measure the level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). AFP is a protein that's produced by the baby's liver. Abnormal AFP levels might indicate illnesses, such as spina bifida, Down syndrome, defects in the abdomen and other chromosome irregularities. (Medical personnel may conduct amniocentesis -- the process of withdrawing amniotic fluid into a syringe from the uterus -- to further evaluate unusual AFP levels. The test is performed during the second trimester.

Mother's Abdomen Measurements

During your prenatal exams, your doctor will likely measure your fundal height -- the distance from your pubic bone to the top of your uterus -- to evaluate your baby's size, position and growth rate. According to the Baby Center Medical Advisory Board, as a general rule of thumb, your fundal height in centimeters equals the number of weeks you're pregnant. For example, at 20 weeks, your fundal height should be about 18 to 22 centimeters. If your fundal height is larger than expected, your due date may be off or your stomach muscles may be loose. It could also mean that you have too much amniotic fluid, your baby is breech or you have a bigger-than-normal baby due to gestational diabetes. If your fundal height is smaller than expected, you may have well-conditioned abdominal muscles or your due date could be too early. In some cases, it could signify that your uterus isn't growing properly or you have too little amniotic fluid. Further tests, such as ultrasounds, will likely rule out fundal-height concerns.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.