Background and objective: This was a nationwide prospective study carried out in Italy between 2005 and 2007, involving 34 centers with a neonatal intensive care unit. The study reports the Italian Neonatal Study charts for weight, length, and head circumference of singletons born between 23 and 42 gestational weeks, comparing them with previous Italian data and with the most recent data from European countries.
Patients and methods: Single live born babies with ultrasound assessment of gestational age within the first trimester, and with both parents of Italian origin. Only fetal hydrops and major congenital anomalies diagnosed at birth were excluded. The reference set consists of 22,087 girls and 23,375 boys.
Results: At each gestational age, boys are heavier than girls by about 4%. Later-born neonates are heavier than firstborn neonates by about 3%. The effects of sex and birth order on length and head circumference are milder. No differences were observed between babies born in central-north Italy and southern Italy. A large variability emerged among European neonatal charts, resulting in huge differences in the percentage of Italian Neonatal Study neonates below the 10th centile, which is traditionally used to define small-for-gestational-age babies. In the last 2 decades prominent changes in the distribution of birth weight emerged in Italy and in the rest of Europe, in both term and preterm neonates.
Conclusions: The existing European neonatal charts, based on more or less recent data, were found to be inappropriate for Italy. Until an international standard is developed, the use of national updated reference charts is recommended.