Study: Racial differences in unborn babies' growth

Study: Racial differences in unborn babies' growth

. - Researchers say standards used by doctors to track an unborn baby's growth through ultrasound may not apply when a pregnant woman is a minority.

In a brand new study released Tuesday, doctors, including an MUSC OB-GYN, say they want new standards to measure unborn babies, insisting current standards don't factor in our diverse ethnic backgrounds.

That means many minority women who are pregnant may undergo unnecessary tests, even be forced into early delivery of their babies. Many people post ultrasound pictures of their anticipated new arrivals on Facebook, to share with friends and families. These ultrasound tests are routine, and are used to look for problems with the unborn baby, including troubles with growth.

But this brand new research, published by the National Institutes of Health, found the ultrasound measurement charts were designed in the 1980s, and involved only 139 middle-class white women.

Dr. Roger Newman of the Medical University of South Carolina  took part in the new study.

"The formulas are outdated because the population is different," Newman says.  He says the research found new mothers tend to be older, heavier, and more likely not white.

And researchers found significant differences after 20 weeks of pregnancy,  in the sizes of the healthy, unborn babies.

According to the study, white mothers had the largest fetuses. Hispanic then Asian mothers followed, and black mothers tended to have the smallest fetuses.  According to this study, up to 15 percent of those minority babies are classified as being growth-restricted, which would signal underlying problems.

But Newman says their research found the minority babies may simply be smaller, and perfectly healthy.

The findings could suggest a number of  healthy pregnant minority women may undergo tests and procedures they don't need.

"If a baby is thought to be below the tenth percentile, there may be a forced delivery," Newman said. "This overcalling of growth restriction happens about 15 percent of the time. The easy answer is we need to change standards being used in ultrasound machines currently. We need new formulas that take racial factors into consideration."

But he says doctors across the country will likely continue using the current standards until researchers can convince companies that make ultrasound machines and establish the formulas that changes are needed.

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