Existing fetal growth references all suffer from 1 or more major methodologic problems, including errors in reported gestational age, biologically implausible birth weight for gestational age, insufficient sample sizes at low gestational age, single-hospital or other non-population–based samples, and inadequate statistical modeling techniques.
We used the newly developed Canadian national linked file of singleton births and infant deaths for births between 1994 and 1996, for which gestational age is largely based on early ultrasound estimates. Assuming a normal distribution for birth weight at each gestational age, we used the expectation-maximization algorithm to exclude infants with gestational ages that were more consistent with 40-week births than with the observed gestational age. Distributions of birth weight at the corrected gestational ages were then statistically smoothed.
The resulting male and female curves provide smooth and biologically plausible means, standard deviations, and percentile cutoffs for defining small- and large-for-gestational-age births. Large-for-gestational age cutoffs (90th percentile) at low gestational ages are considerably lower than those of existing references, whereas small-for-gestational-age cutoffs (10th percentile) postterm are higher. For example, compared with the current World Health Organization reference from California (Williams et al, 1982) and a recently proposed US national reference (Alexander et al, 1996), the 90th percentiles for singleton males at 30 weeks are 1837 versus 2159 and 2710 g. The corresponding 10th percentiles at 42 weeks are 3233 versus 3086 and 2998 g.
This new sex-specific, population-based reference should improve clinical assessment of growth in individual newborns, population-based surveillance of geographic and temporal trends in birth weight for gestational age, and evaluation of clinical or public health interventions to enhance fetal growth. fetal growth, birth weight, gestational age, preterm birth, postterm birth.