Shorter women more likely to have premature babies

Shorter mothers are more likely to have shorter pregnancies, smaller babies and are also at greater risk of giving birth prematurely, according to a new study.

Researchers found that a mother’s height directly influences her risk for preterm birth.

Researchers at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center – Ohio Collaborative looked at 3,485 Nordic women and their babies, and found that maternal height, which is determined by genetic factors, helped shape the foetal environment, influencing the length of pregnancy and frequency of prematurity.

Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm, and more than one million die due to complications of an early birth.

Babies who survive an early birth face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays.

“A major goal of the nationwide network of March of Dimes prematurity research centers is identifying genes that govern foetal growth and length of pregnancy,” said Joe Leigh Simpson, March of Dimes senior vice president for Research and Global Programmes.

“That a woman’s height influences gestational length, independent of the genes she passes on that determine foetal size, is a major finding by our research networks, and the first of what we expect to be many genetic contributions,” Simpson said.

“This new finding adds one small piece toward solving the much larger puzzle of preterm birth,” said Jennifer L Howse, president of the March of Dimes.

“Our finding shows that a mother’s height has a direct impact on how long her pregnancy lasts,” added Louis Muglia, the primary investigator of the Ohio Collaborative, and co-director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“The explanation for why this happens is unclear but could depend not only on unknown genes but also on woman’s lifetime of nutrition and her environment,” Muglia said.