Neurodevelopmental delay in small babies at term: a systematic review

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2012 Sep;40(3):267-75. doi: 10.1002/uog.11112. Epub 2012 Aug 7.


Objective: Being small for gestational age (SGA) or having fetal growth restriction (FGR) may be associated with poorer neurodevelopmental outcomes compared to being appropriate for gestational age (AGA). The aim of this paper was to evaluate the existence and magnitude of decrease in neurodevelopmental scores in SGA and FGR infants born at term from a systematic review of the existing literature.

Methods: Studies of neurodevelopment in SGA/FGR babies were identified from a search of the internet scientific databases. Studies that included preterm births and those that did not define absolute indices of standardized cognitive outcome were excluded. SGA was defined as birth weight below the 10(th) centile for gestation and FGR as the same birth-weight standard with abnormal umbilical artery Doppler ultrasound or evidence of abnormal placentation on pathology specimen studies. Effect size was calculated as the standardized mean difference between neurodevelopment scores of controls and SGA/FGR children.

Results: There were 28 studies of SGA, with a total of 7861 SGA and 91 619 control AGA babies, and three studies of FGR, with a total of 119 FGR and 49 control AGA babies. Data synthesis showed that standardized neurodevelopmental scores in SGA babies were 0.32 SD (95% CI, 0.25-0.38) below those for normal controls, though with heterogeneity between studies (I(2) = 68.3%). Insufficient data were available for FGR babies.

Conclusion: The findings of the study demonstrate that among babies born at term, being SGA is associated with lower scores on neurodevelopmental outcomes compared to AGA controls. A trial designed to evaluate the effects of intervention in small fetuses born at term in order to improve the neurodevelopmental outcome is urgently needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Infant, Small for Gestational Age / growth & development*
  • Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Pregnancy