Maternal perception of fetal movements has historically been used to indicate fetal wellbeing, and has been used with varying success in recent years to identify those pregnancies at increased risk of stillbirth, and other placental pathologies. We present a hypothesis that links reduced fetal movements (RFM) to fetal growth restriction (FGR) and stillbirth through placental dysfunction, and suggests the possibility that this can allow development of a reliable method to identify those women experiencing RFM who are at increased risk of adverse outcome. Reduced fetal movement is thought to represent fetal compensation in a chronic hypoxic environment due to inadequacies in the placental supply of oxygen and nutrients. Placental analysis in FGR and in stillbirth has revealed a number of structural abnormalities and an imbalance in cell turnover, and in terms of function, FGR is also associated with reduced nutrient transport. Both FGR and stillbirth are linked to changes in maternal levels of placental hormones. However, no such studies have been performed in samples from pregnancies affected by RFM. Currently, there are no formal guidelines to direct the management of such women, although it is recommended they undergo measurement of symphysis-fundal height and cardiotocography, and possibly Doppler ultrasound and biophysical profiling. Novel tests could involve the measurement of placental-derived hormones in maternal serum. To address this hypothesis, macroscopic and microscopic analysis of placental samples from both normal pregnancies and those affected by RFM is needed to detect any changes in structure. Placental function could be evaluated by levels of placental hormones in maternal blood. If placental dysfunction can be linked to RFM, and a robust method of identifying those women with placental insufficiency can be developed; screening patients with RFM could lead to a reduction in perinatal morbidity and mortality.
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