Background: Fully understanding the determinants and sequelae of fetal growth requires a continuous measure of birth weight adjusted for gestational age. Published United States reference data, however, provide estimates only of the median and lowest and highest 5th and 10th percentiles for birth weight at each gestational age. The purpose of our analysis was to create more continuous reference measures of birth weight for gestational age for use in epidemiologic analyses.
Methods: We used data from the most recent nationwide United States Natality datasets to generate multiple reference percentiles of birth weight at each completed week of gestation from 22 through 44 weeks. Gestational age was determined from last menstrual period. We analyzed data from 6,690,717 singleton infants with recorded birth weight and sex born to United States resident mothers in 1999 and 2000.
Results: Birth weight rose with greater gestational age, with increasing slopes during the third trimester and a leveling off beyond 40 weeks. Boys had higher birth weights than girls, later born children higher weights than firstborns, and infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers higher birth weights than those born to non-Hispanic black mothers. These results correspond well with previously published estimates reporting limited percentiles.
Conclusions: Our method provides comprehensive reference values of birth weight at 22 through 44 completed weeks of gestation, derived from broadly based nationwide data. Other approaches require assumptions of normality or of a functional relationship between gestational age and birth weight, which may not be appropriate. These data should prove useful for researchers investigating the predictors and outcomes of altered fetal growth.