Objective: To obtain unbiased estimates of the variation of birthweight with gestation in infants born before 32 weeks of gestation.
Setting: The former Northern Regional Health Authority.
Design: Information on birthweight was collected during a collaborative study of every registered and unregistered birth at 22 to 31 weeks of gestation in the region in 1983 and 1990 to 1991. These birthweights were then related to computer-generated Tyneside norms for all registered births at 28 to 42 weeks of gestation between 1984 and 1991. Some local information was also collected on fetal weight after termination of pregnancy on social grounds at 16 to 21 weeks of gestation.
Results: Weight centiles constructed after excluding infants with a gross, externally visible, malformation and those dying before the onset of labour suggest that previously published European standards have overestimated birthweight in infants < 28 weeks of gestation, some low centiles being 30% in error. Female and first-born infants weighed 4% less than their male and later-born counterparts at all gestations studied. A single correction factor can therefore be used to correct for sex and parity, eliminating the need for separate centile graphs. Twin pregnancy was associated with a 10% reduction in mean birthweight in pregnancies lasting < 37 weeks, and this difference increased progressively in pregnancies lasting longer than this.
Conclusion: The small number of low birthweight infants in previous datasets and the selective exclusion of all nonregistered births have made previous second trimester weight-for-gestation norms unreliable.