Fetal growth: a review of terms, concepts and issues relevant to obstetrics

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2013 Feb;41(2):136-45. doi: 10.1002/uog.11204.


The perinatal literature includes several potentially confusing and controversial terms and concepts related to fetal size and growth. This article discusses fetal growth from an obstetric perspective and addresses various issues including the physiologic mechanisms that determine fetal growth trajectories, known risk factors for abnormal fetal growth, diagnostic and prognostic issues related to restricted and excessive growth and temporal trends in fetal growth. Also addressed are distinctions between fetal growth 'standards' and fetal growth 'references', and between fetal growth charts based on estimated fetal weight vs those based on birth weight. Other concepts discussed include the incidence of fetal growth restriction in pregnancy (does the frequency of fetal growth restriction increase or decrease with increasing gestation?), the obstetric implications of studies showing associations between fetal growth and adult chronic illnesses (such as coronary heart disease) and the need for customizing fetal growth standards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / diagnosis
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology
  • Fetal Macrosomia / diagnosis
  • Fetal Macrosomia / physiopathology
  • Fetal Weight / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Small for Gestational Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Reference Standards
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Factors
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal
  • Umbilical Arteries / physiology
  • Weight Gain / physiology