International standards for newborn weight, length, and head circumference by gestational age and sex: the Newborn Cross-Sectional Study of the INTERGROWTH-21st Project

Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Background: In 2006, WHO published international growth standards for children younger than 5 years, which are now accepted worldwide. In the INTERGROWTH-21st Project, our aim was to complement them by developing international standards for fetuses, newborn infants, and the postnatal growth period of preterm infants.

Methods: INTERGROWTH-21st is a population-based project that assessed fetal growth and newborn size in eight geographically defined urban populations. These groups were selected because most of the health and nutrition needs of mothers were met, adequate antenatal care was provided, and there were no major environmental constraints on growth. As part of the Newborn Cross-Sectional Study (NCSS), a component of INTERGROWTH-21st Project, we measured weight, length, and head circumference in all newborn infants, in addition to collecting data prospectively for pregnancy and the perinatal period. To construct the newborn standards, we selected all pregnancies in women meeting (in addition to the underlying population characteristics) strict individual eligibility criteria for a population at low risk of impaired fetal growth (labelled the NCSS prescriptive subpopulation). Women had a reliable ultrasound estimate of gestational age using crown–rump length before 14 weeks of gestation or biparietal diameter if antenatal care started between 14 weeks and 24 weeks or less of gestation. Newborn anthropometric measures were obtained within 12 h of birth by identically trained anthropometric teams using the same equipment at all sites. Fractional polynomials assuming a skewed t distribution were used to estimate the fitted centiles.

Findings: We identified 20 486 (35%) eligible women from the 59 137 pregnant women enrolled in NCSS between May 14, 2009, and Aug 2, 2013. We calculated sex-specific observed and smoothed centiles for weight, length, and head circumference for gestational age at birth. The observed and smoothed centiles were almost identical. We present the 3rd, 10th, 50th, 90th, and 97th centile curves according to gestational age and sex.

Interpretation: We have developed, for routine clinical practice, international anthropometric standards to assess newborn size that are intended to complement the WHO Child Growth Standards and allow comparisons across multiethnic populations.

Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


The Lancet