Fetal growth velocity: the NICHD fetal growth studies

Academic Article


  • Background: Accurately identifying pregnancies with accelerated or diminished fetal growth is challenging and generally based on cross-sectional percentile estimates of fetal weight. Longitudinal growth velocity might improve identification of abnormally grown fetuses. Objective: We sought to complement fetal size standards with fetal growth velocity, develop a model to compute fetal growth velocity percentiles for any given set of gestational week intervals, and determine association between fetal growth velocity and birthweight. Study Design: This was a prospective cohort study with data collected at 12 US sites (2009 through 2013) from 1733 nonobese, low-risk pregnancies included in the singleton standard. Following a standardized sonogram at 10w0d–13w6d, each woman was randomized to 1 of 4 follow-up visit schedules with 5 additional study sonograms (targeted ranges: 16–22, 24–29, 30–33, 34–37, and 38–41 weeks). Study visits could occur ± 1 week from the targeted GA. Ultrasound biometric measurements included biparietal diameter, head circumference, abdominal circumference, and femur length, and estimated fetal weight was calculated. We used linear mixed models with cubic splines for the fixed effects and random effects to flexibly model ultrasound trajectories. We computed velocity percentiles in 2 ways: (1) difference between 2 consecutive weekly measurements (ie, weekly velocity), and (2) difference between any 2 ultrasounds at a clinically reasonable difference between 2 gestational ages (ie, velocity calculator). We compared correlation between fetal growth velocity percentiles and estimated fetal weight percentiles at 4-week intervals, with 32 (±1) weeks’ gestation for illustration. Growth velocity was computed as estimated fetal growth rate (g/wk) between ultrasound at that gestational age and from prior visit [ie, for 28–32 weeks’ gestational age: velocity = (estimated fetal weight 32–28)/(gestational age 32–28)]. We examined differences in birthweight by whether or not estimated fetal weight and estimated fetal weight velocity were <5th or ≥5th percentiles using χ2. Results: Fetal growth velocity was nonmonotonic, with acceleration early in pregnancy, peaking at 13, 14, 15, and 16 weeks for biparietal diameter, head circumference, femur length, and abdominal circumference, respectively. Biparietal diameter, head circumference, and abdominal circumference had a second acceleration at 19–22, 19–21, and 27–31 weeks, respectively. Estimated fetal weight velocity peaked around 35 weeks. Fetal growth velocity varied slightly by race/ethnicity although comparisons reflected differences for parameters at various gestational ages. Estimated fetal weight velocity percentiles were not highly correlated with fetal size percentiles (Pearson r = 0.40–0.41, P <.001), suggesting that these measurements reflect different aspects of fetal growth and velocity may add additional information to a single measure of estimated fetal weight. At 32 (SD ± 1) weeks, if both estimated fetal weight velocity and size were <5th percentile, mean birthweight was 2550 g; however, even when size remained <5th percentile but velocity was ≥5th percentile, birthweight increased to 2867 g, reflecting the important contribution of higher growth velocities. For estimated fetal weight ≥5th percentile, but growth velocity <5th, birthweight was smaller (3208 vs 3357 g, respectively, P <.001). Conclusion: We provide fetal growth velocity data to complement our previous work on fetal growth size standards, and have developed a calculator to compute fetal growth velocity. Preliminary findings suggest that growth velocity adds additional information over knowing fetal size alone.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Grantz KL; Kim S; Grobman WA; Newman R; Owen J; Skupski D; Grewal J; Chien EK; Wing DA; Wapner RJ
  • Start Page

  • 285.e1
  • End Page

  • 285.e36
  • Volume

  • 219
  • Issue

  • 3