The POPS study (Pregnancy Outcome Predictions)

This study looked at whether additional ultrasound scans in the third trimester of pregnancy would help to identify babies who are smaller than expected. Babies who have slow growth, known as ‘fetal growth restriction’, are more likely to have problems at birth and also, sadly, are more likely to die before or around the time of birth compared with babies who have grown normally. But, it isn’t easy to identify babies who have fetal growth restriction during pregnancy.

Led by Professor Gordon Smith, 4444 first-time pregnant women took part in this study, which was carried out at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge. In most pregnancies, the baby’s growth is estimated from the increase in size of the mother’s bump during pregnancy. There is a real need to improve the identification of babies who would benefit from extra monitoring and perhaps early delivery, and there is much debate around whether additional ultrasound scans in the third trimester would be helpful. In this study, all women in the study had the normal pregnancy care they would expect in the NHS plus extra ultrasound scans if there were concerns about the baby. In addition, the women had ultrasound scans at 28 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Once the babies were born, the research team looked at the birthweight and the scan results to see how often the scans correctly identified a smaller than expected baby.

Teddy’s Wish contributed £15,000

What did we find out?

- The study showed that ultrasound can improve the detection of small babies.

- Yet, some babies still die after a reassuring scan. And while research to develop blood tests (looking at ‘biomarkers’ in blood) to highlight a risk of stillbirth has been promising, the tests don’t give clear enough information on their own to be helpful.

- So the next question that the POP study is asking is whether ultrasound can be combined with blood tests to identify more of the babies who are becoming ill towards the end of pregnancy. The work continues.

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