Fetal ultrasound measurements and associations with postnatal outcomes in infancy and childhood: a systematic review of an emerging literature

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Several hypotheses predict that faltering fetal growth is an antecedent for common non-communicable diseases. This is the first systematic review of an emerging literature linking antenatal fetal measurements to postnatal outcomes.


Electronic databases (OVID, EMBASE and Google Scholar) and cohort study websites were searched in July 2014. Studies were selected which examined associations between antenatal fetal ultrasound measurements and postnatal outcomes. Neonatal outcomes, e.g. premature delivery, were not included.


There were 23 papers identified from cohorts in Western countries, including 11 from a single cohort. Four papers reported outcomes in children aged over 6□years. Small, but not large, for gestational age (SGA) was associated with adverse outcomes except for one study where individuals with the lightest or heaviest estimated fetal weight risk were at increased risk for autistic spectrum disorder. The magnitude of associations was modest, e.g. each z score reduction in fetal size was associated with 10-20% increased risk for delayed development or a 1□mm□Hg increase in blood pressure. Both growth acceleration and deceleration were both associated with adverse outcomes.


There is consistency for antenatal SGA and growth deceleration being associated with adverse outcomes determined in early childhood. Accelerating fetal growth was associated with both advantageous and disadvantageous outcomes, and this is consistent with the concept of predictive adaptive responses where exposure to a postnatal environment which was not anticipated predisposes the fetus to adverse health.

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