How to increase blood flow to baby during pregnancy

Inadequate umbilical blood flow leads to intrauterine growth restriction, a major killer in perinatal medicine today. Nitric oxide (NO) is important in the maintenance of umbilical blood flow, and antioxidants increase NO bioavailability. What remains unknown is whether antioxidants can increase umbilical blood flow. Melatonin participates in circadian, seasonal, and reproductive physiology, but has also been reported to act as a potent endogenous antioxidant. We tested the hypothesis that treatment during pregnancy with melatonin increases umbilical blood flow via NO-dependent mechanisms. This was tested in pregnant sheep by investigating in vivo the effects on continuous measurement of umbilical blood flow of melatonin before and after NO blockade with a NO clamp. These effects of melatonin were compared with those of the traditional antioxidant, vitamin C. Under anesthesia, 12 pregnant sheep and their fetuses (0.8 of gestation) were fitted with catheters and a Transonic probe around an umbilical artery, inside the fetal abdomen. Following 5 days of recovery, cardiovascular variables were recorded during fetal i.v. treatment with either melatonin (n=6, 0.5±0.1 μg/kg/min) or vitamin C (n=6, 8.9±0.4 mg/kg/min) before and after fetal NO blockade with the NO clamp. Fetal treatment with melatonin or vitamin C increased umbilical blood flow, independent of changes in fetal arterial blood pressure. Fetal NO blockade prevented the increase in umbilical blood flow induced by melatonin or vitamin C. Antioxidant treatment could be a useful clinical tool to increase or maintain umbilical blood flow in complicated pregnancy.

Finding out whether steroids can improve the blood flow through the placenta

Start: September 2012

End: August 2020

The placenta is very important in pregnancy as it supplies babies with the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow and survive. In a healthy pregnancy, oxygen is transferred from the placenta to the baby continuously through the umbilical cord. However, in some pregnancies, there are gaps in the flow of blood between the baby and the placenta, meaning that babies are not able to grow properly and are at risk of being stillborn.

At the moment, there are no treatments that can improve the flow of blood between the placenta and the baby – the only option in these pregnancies is to deliver the baby early. When this happens, the mother is given steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature so that it can breathe better after birth.

Steroid injections have been shown to improve blood flow in placenta

Interestingly, these steroid injections have actually been shown to temporarily improve blood flow between the placenta and the baby, although we don’t know whether this benefits the baby.

We have recently pioneered the development of an exciting new way of looking at the placenta while the baby is still growing using Magnetic Resonance Imaging  (MRI).

Using our technique, we can look much more closely at the blood flow between the placenta and the baby, and find out how much oxygen is present. We will now use this method to monitor babies that have been struggling because of gaps in the flow of blood to and from the placenta, to see if there is an increase in the amount of oxygen in both the placenta and the baby after a steroid injection.

We want to find out if steroid injections could be used as a treatment when babies are not growing properly. In the future, we also hope to use our MRI technique to assess how well other novel therapies are working.

Stillbirth is devastating for families. We have been gathering testimony about the terrible effect of stillbirth on parents and wider family to raise awareness and make the case that more must be done to bring down the statistics.

'We sat on the bed laughing and joking, pushing the worry away. The midwife seemed to be away for ages. When she returned we were taken to a scan room to be scanned. As we walked in the room I knew something wasn’t right as there were three people in the room already. I nervously lay on the bed and after a few minutes the doctor turned to me and said, ‘I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat.’

'Those words still make me feel sick to my stomach. I just remember screaming and screaming. I looked to David who sat with his head in his hands. I eventually managed to stop screaming and sat and cried uncontrollably. How could this have happened?'

Shelley, whose baby Joseph was stillborn at 37 weeks

The placenta acts as a transport for the infant’s nutritional and oxygen needs. Sometimes a baby can get by okay if the placenta is not functioning well during pregnancy.

However, during labor, a dysfunctional placenta can cause problems that may decrease a mother’s options.  While we can’t prevent every problem that may arise, there are some things a woman can do to help increase her chances of helping to increase blood flow to baby and having a healthy placenta.

For more information on how to have a healthy pregnancy, watch some of our exercise videos we’ve compiled.

Current leaders in placental research argue that the placenta is one of the most important organs.  It provides protection, nurishment, and removes waste.

Steps to Increase Blood Flow to Baby

  1. Make the choice to stop smoking.  Some research has shown that smoking may impair the exchange of oxygen in the placenta.  This could lead to more difficulties with the placenta and baby.
  2. Do your best to control any medical conditions related to oxygenation.  These may include things such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, or infections.
  3. Make sure that a routine is in place to help reduce anxiety and stress.
  4. Natural movement exercises will help to increase blood flow to the placenta, specifically exercises to release the psoas and walking.  These help to increase the uterine blood flow, which helps keep the placenta functioning well.
  5. Spend some time deep breathing to help with relaxation.  Stress and anxiety decrease the blood flow to the uterus and uteroplacental blood flow.
  6. Stay hydrated.  Dehydration can affect the oxygenation through the placenta.
  7. Stay off your back in later pregnancy.  The larger uterus may press on the vena cava that returns blood from the lower half of the body.  This in turn may create change in blood pressure that can affect oxygenation to the uterus and the placenta.

For More Information on Pregnancy and Childbirth, Sign Up for Access to Our Childbirth Library. 


Human Placenta Project, NIH
Maternal cigarette smoking: the effects on umbilical and uterine blood flow velocity.

The Influence of Maternal Cigarette Smoking on Placental Pathology in Pregnancies Complicated by Abruption

Alterations of Placental Vascular Function in Asthmatic Pregnancies

Asthma and Pregnancy: A Review

Physiology of the Placent-Gas Exchange

The Effects of Decreasing Maternal Anxiety on Fetal Oxygenation and Nucleated Red Blood Cells Count in the Cord Blood

Maternal and fetal effects of the supine and pelvic tilt positions in late pregnancy

How to increase blood flow to baby during pregnancy

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  • How to increase blood flow to baby during pregnancy
  • How to increase blood flow to baby during pregnancy
  • How to increase blood flow to baby during pregnancy
  • How to increase blood flow to baby during pregnancy
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