Importance: Despite the increasing prevalence of pregravid obesity, systematic evaluation of the association of maternal obesity with fetal growth trajectories is lacking.
Objective: To characterize differences in fetal growth trajectories between obese and nonobese pregnant women, and to identify the timing of any observed differences.
Design, setting, and participants: The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Fetal Growth Studies-Singletons study enrolled cohorts of pregnant women at 12 US health care institutions. Obese women (with prepregnancy body mass index > 30) and nonobese women (prepregnancy body mass indexes, 19-29.9) without major chronic diseases were recruited between 8 weeks and 0 days' gestation and 13 weeks and 6 days' gestation. A mixed longitudinal randomization scheme randomized participants into 1 of 4 schedules for 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional ultrasonograms to capture weekly fetal growth data throughout the remainder of their pregnancies.
Main outcomes and measures: On each ultrasonogram, fetal humerus length, femur length, biparietal diameter, head circumference, and abdominal circumference were measured. Fetal growth curves were estimated using linear mixed models with cubic splines. Median differences in the fetal measures at each gestational week of the obese and nonobese participants were examined using the likelihood ratio and Wald tests after adjustment for maternal characteristics.
Results: The study enrolled 468 obese and 2334 nonobese women between 8 weeks and 0 days' gestation and 13 weeks and 6 days' gestation. After a priori exclusion criteria, 443 obese and 2320 nonobese women composed the final cohort. Commencing at 21 weeks' gestation, femur length and humerus length were significantly longer for fetuses of obese woman than those of nonobese women. Differences persisted in obese and nonobese groups through 38 weeks' gestation (median femur length, 71.0 vs 70.2 mm; P = .01; median humerus length, 62.2 vs 61.6 mm; P = .03). Averaged across gestation, head circumference was significantly larger in fetuses of obese women than those of nonobese women (P = .02). Fetal abdominal circumference was not greater in the obese cohort than in the nonobese cohort but was significantly larger than in fetuses of normal-weight women (with body mass indexes between 19.0-24.9) commencing at 32 weeks (median, 282.1 vs 280.2 mm; P = .04). Starting from 30 weeks' gestation, estimated fetal weight was significantly larger for the fetuses of obese women (median, 1512 g [95% CI, 1494-1530 g] vs 1492 g [95% CI, 1484-1499 g]) and the difference grew as gestational age increased. Birth weight was higher by almost 100 g in neonates born to obese women than to nonobese women (mean, 3373.2 vs 3279.5 g).
Conclusions and relevance: As early as 32 weeks' gestation, fetuses of obese women had higher weights than fetuses of nonobese women. The mechanisms and long-term health implications of these findings are not yet established.