Significance of Femur Length in Pregnancy

Closeup shot of a doctor showing a patient ultrasound scans on a digital tablet in her office
Adene Sanchez / Getty Images

Early in pregnancy, certain ultrasound findings like the presence of a yolk sac and the crown-to-rump ratio are used to help determine the health of a pregnancy. These markers can also establish gestational age and the possibility of pregnancy loss. After the first trimester, the embryo has developed into a fetus and new markers, such as femur length are used to narrow in on gestational age and assess the health of the baby.

When a baby's femur length is checked during pregnancy, expecting parents often wonder when to worry about short femur length. It is often considered a cause for potential concern and further evaluation if the femur length is below the 5th percentile. However, in the absence of other known health issues, research shows that most babies who have short femur length are small for their age but otherwise healthy. Learn more about when to worry about short femur length.

Femur Length Measurement

Among the markers used for assessing fetal growth and health is the length of the baby's femur, the long bone in the thigh. Measured from the blunt end of the bone to the shaft, the femur length is generally measured in millimeters.

A short femur length finding on ultrasound may indicate the need for further testing to rule out certain conditions, such as intrauterine growth restriction, Down syndrome, or other chromosomal issues. However, often the baby is perfectly healthy. This measurement has many limitations, from human error to outdated ultrasound equipment to normal variation. Femur length is only one variable among many that should be used to make determinations about a baby's health.

It is important to know that in the majority of these pregnancies (73%), parents will go on to have a full-term delivery of a healthy baby whose size is appropriate for gestational age.

Possible Concerns With Short Femur Length

When femur length is below the fifth percentile, parents may be advised about a number of potential atypical pregnancy outcomes. A short femur length identified on ultrasound in the second or third trimester raises concern for certain conditions in the fetus or the pregnancy.


Fetuses with shorter-than-expected femur length have been found to be at higher risk for skeletal dysplasia, otherwise known as dwarfism. This is different from short stature, which is a height that is three or more standard deviations below the mean for age but is proportional.

There are more than 200 disorders that can be categorized as skeletal dysplasia. All are characterized by a disproportionate skeleton due to cartilage and bone growth abnormalities.

Placental Insufficiency

Some studies have raised concerns about the sufficiency of the placenta to provide an adequate nutritional environment for fetuses with short femur lengths. Because of that, short femur length is linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes such as fetuses that are small for gestational age, babies born with low birth weight, and preterm birth.


A femur length that is shorter than expected can also be a soft marker for certain genetic conditions, such as trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), and trisomy 18 (Edward's syndrome). Soft markers are indicators found on ultrasounds that are not abnormalities on their own, but characteristics that occur more often in fetuses with chromosomal trisomies.

Compared to high-level markers such as nuchal skin fold, femur length is considered a low-level marker for Down syndrome. The presence of any of these markers may simply indicate a need for more prenatal testing.

A Word From Verywell

It can be frightening to hear that your baby has a short femur length, or another marker of concern. However, in most cases, the outcome is still a healthy, full-term baby. If your doctor finds that your baby has a shorter than expected femur length, further testing may help you and your healthcare provider understand what this measurement means and how best to care for your baby during pregnancy, at birth, and beyond.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Morales-Roselló J, Peralta Llorens N. Outcome of fetuses with diagnosis of isolated short femur in the second half of pregnancy. ISRN Obstet Gynecol. 2012;2012:268218. doi:10.5402/2012/268218

  2. D'Ambrosio V, Vena F, Marchetti C, et al. Midtrimester isolated short femur and perinatal outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2019;98(1):11-17. doi:10.1111/aogs.13470

  3. Smith M, Nicoll A. Perinatal outcomes following mid trimester detection of isolated short foetal femur length. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2018;38(5):727. doi:10.1080/01443615.2018.1444408

  4. Mailath-Pokorny M, Polterauer S, Worda K, Springer S, Bettelheim D. Isolated short fetal femur length in the second trimester and the association with adverse perinatal outcome: Experiences from a tertiary referral center. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(6):e0128820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128820

  5. Bonafe L, Cormier-Daire V, Hall C, et al. Nosology and classification of genetic skeletal disorders: 2015 revision. Am J Med Gen Part A. 2015;167A(12):2869-92. doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.37365

  6. Mathiesen, JM, Aksglaede, L, Skibsted, L, Petersen, OB, Tabor, A. Outcome of fetuses with short femur length detected at second-trimester anomaly scan: A national survey. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2014;44(2):160-5. doi:10.1002/uog.13286

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.