UC IRVINE (US)—Most pregnant women might be surprised to learn that current fetal growth standards are based on 30-year-old data that may not reflect their age, ethnicity, or even where they live—all factors that affect a baby’s rate of development. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine are working to establish more demographic-specific national standards.
The National Institutes of Health has granted UC Irvine $1.7 million to establish the standards for fetal growth. Researchers at UC Irvine, Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the Medical University of South Carolina will spend three years tracking fetal development in thousands of Caucasian, African-American, Asian and Hispanic women across the country.
“Normal fetal growth is a critical part of a healthy pregnancy and affects the long-term health of the child,” says Deborah A. Wing, associate professor and director of maternal-fetal medicine in UCI’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Establishing a national standard will revolutionize the way we practice modern obstetrics.”
Accurate fetal growth data, she says, will better enable prenatal care providers to diagnose and treat women whose babies are not developing properly.
The old data leaves many questions unanswered. For example, while obese women are predisposed to having babies large for their gestational age and Asian women tend to have smaller babies, it’s not clear at what point this may indicate a problem.
“This important investigation will redefine the degree to which a physician must react to a potential fetal growth abnormality,” Wing says.
In May, UCI researchers and colleagues at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center will begin recruiting 600 normal-weight women in the first trimester of low-risk pregnancies; 150 obese women also will be enrolled. Participants will receive prenatal care, including five ultrasound exams, and complete surveys about their eating habits.
Information from the four major racial/ethnic groups will be used to determine normal fetal growth patterns for each.
“The vision is that one day, an obstetrician will be able to plug a woman’s demographic characteristics—age, weight, and ethnicity—into a computer and generate a patient-specific fetal growth curve for her baby,” Wing says.
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