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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Apr;214(4):515.e1-515.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2015.11.028. Epub 2015 Dec 2.

Predicting gestational age using neonatal metabolic markers.

Author information

Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA; Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA. Electronic address:
State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa, Coralville, IA.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.



Accurate gestational age estimation is extremely important for clinical care decisions of the newborn as well as for perinatal health research. Although prenatal ultrasound dating is one of the most accurate methods for estimating gestational age, it is not feasible in all settings. Identifying novel and accurate methods for gestational age estimation at birth is important, particularly for surveillance of preterm birth rates in areas without routine ultrasound dating.


We hypothesized that metabolic and endocrine markers captured by routine newborn screening could improve gestational age estimation in the absence of prenatal ultrasound technology.


This is a retrospective analysis of 230,013 newborn metabolic screening records collected by the Iowa Newborn Screening Program between 2004 and 2009. The data were randomly split into a model-building dataset (n = 153,342) and a model-testing dataset (n = 76,671). We performed multiple linear regression modeling with gestational age, in weeks, as the outcome measure. We examined 44 metabolites, including biomarkers of amino acid and fatty acid metabolism, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and 17-hydroxyprogesterone. The coefficient of determination (R(2)) and the root-mean-square error were used to evaluate models in the model-building dataset that were then tested in the model-testing dataset.


The newborn metabolic regression model consisted of 88 parameters, including the intercept, 37 metabolite measures, 29 squared metabolite measures, and 21 cubed metabolite measures. This model explained 52.8% of the variation in gestational age in the model-testing dataset. Gestational age was predicted within 1 week for 78% of the individuals and within 2 weeks of gestation for 95% of the individuals. This model yielded an area under the curve of 0.899 (95% confidence interval 0.895-0.903) in differentiating those born preterm (<37 weeks) from those born term (≥37 weeks). In the subset of infants born small-for-gestational age, the average difference between gestational ages predicted by the newborn metabolic model and the recorded gestational age was 1.5 weeks. In contrast, the average difference between gestational ages predicted by the model including only newborn weight and the recorded gestational age was 1.9 weeks. The estimated prevalence of preterm birth <37 weeks' gestation in the subset of infants that were small for gestational age was 18.79% when the model including only newborn weight was used, over twice that of the actual prevalence of 9.20%. The newborn metabolic model underestimated the preterm birth prevalence at 6.94% but was closer to the prevalence based on the recorded gestational age than the model including only newborn weight.


The newborn metabolic profile, as derived from routine newborn screening markers, is an accurate method for estimating gestational age. In small-for-gestational age neonates, the newborn metabolic model predicts gestational age to a better degree than newborn weight alone. Newborn metabolic screening is a potentially effective method for population surveillance of preterm birth in the absence of prenatal ultrasound measurements or newborn weight.


fetal growth; neonatal metabolism; preterm birth

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