Human embryonic growth trajectories and associations with fetal growth and birthweight

Hum Reprod. 2013 Jul;28(7):1753-61. doi: 10.1093/humrep/det115. Epub 2013 Apr 7.


Study question: How do human embryonic growth trajectories evolve in the first trimester, and is first-trimester embryonic growth associated with fetal growth and birthweight (BW)?

Summary answer: Human embryonic growth rates increase between 9 and 10 weeks of gestation and are associated with mid-pregnancy fetal growth and BW.

What is known already: Fetal growth is associated with health and disease risks in later life. Until recently, prenatal care and research have been focused predominantly on fetal growth in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Longitudinal first-trimester data remain scarce.

Study design, size, duration: We recruited 201 pregnancies before 8 weeks of gestation in a prospective periconception cohort study conducted in a tertiary center.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: We performed weekly 3D ultrasound scans from enrollment up to 13 weeks of gestation. To create embryonic growth trajectories, serial crown-rump length (CRL) measurements were performed using the V-Scope software in the BARCO I-Space. Mid-pregnancy fetal growth parameters and BW were obtained from medical records. Z-scores were calculated for CRL, mid-pregnancy estimated fetal weight (EFW) and BW. Associations between embryonic and fetal growth parameters were investigated using Pearson's correlation coefficients.

Main results and the role of chance: During the early first trimester (up to 9 weeks of gestation), we observed a constant absolute mean embryonic CRL growth rate of 0.99 mm/day (SD 0.10), while the relative growth rate decreased. Between 9 and 10 weeks of gestation, the absolute growth rate increased, and during late first trimester (from 10 weeks of gestation onward), we observed a constant mean relative growth rate of 4.1% (SD 0.006) per day. Overall, early and late first-trimester median CRL Z-scores were strongly correlated with mid-pregnancy EFW (r overall/early/late = 0.57/0.57/0.54, P < 0.001) but only overall and late CRL Z-scores were correlated with BW (r overall = 0.15, P = 0.04; r early = 0.10, P = 0.17; r late = 0.17, P = 0.02).

Limitations, reasons for caution: This study was conducted in a tertiary hospital. Therefore, future studies in other populations are warranted to confirm our results.

Wider implications of the findings: This study shows differences between early and late first-trimester embryonic growth coinciding with changes in intrauterine nourishment. The established associations between first-trimester embryonic growth and fetal size in mid-pregnancy and at birth emphasize that more research is warranted to establish the importance of these results for preconceptional and early pregnancy care.

Keywords: 3D imaging; crown–rump length; embryonic development; first trimester; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Prenatal Care
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal