Background: At any given gestational age, infants with low birth weight have relatively high morbidity and mortality. It is not known, however, whether there is a threshold weight below which morbidity and mortality are significantly greater, or whether that threshold varies with gestational age.
Methods: We analyzed the neonatal outcomes of death, five-minute Apgar score, umbilical-artery blood pH, and morbidity due to prematurity for all singleton infants delivered at Parkland Hospital, Dallas, between January 1, 1988, and August 31, 1996. A distribution of birth weights according to week of gestation at birth was created. Infants in the 26th through 75th percentiles for weight served as the reference group. Data on preterm infants (those born at 24 to 36 weeks of gestation) were analyzed separately from data on infants delivered at term (37 or more weeks of gestation).
Results: A total of 122,754 women and adolescents delivered singleton live infants without malformations between 24 and 43 weeks of gestation. Among the 12,317 preterm infants who were analyzed, there was no specific birth-weight percentile at which morbidity and mortality increased. Among 82,361 infants who were born at term and whose birth weights were at or below the 75th percentile, however, the rate of neonatal death increased from 0.03 percent in the reference group (26th through 75th percentile for weight) to 0.3 percent for those with birth weights at or below the 3rd percentile (P<0.001). The incidence of five-minute Apgar scores of 3 or less and umbilical-artery blood pH values of 7.0 or less was approximately doubled for infants at or below the 3rd birth-weight percentile (P=0.003 and P<0.001, respectively). The incidence of intubation at birth, seizures during the first day of life, and sepsis was also significantly increased among term infants with birth weights at or below the 3rd percentile. These differences persisted after adjustment for the mother's race and parity and the infant's sex.
Conclusions: Mortality and morbidity are increased among infants born at term whose birth weights are at or below the 3rd percentile for their gestational age.