Size and body proportions at birth are partly determined by maternal body composition, but most studies of mother-baby relationships have only considered the effects of maternal height and weight on offspring birthweight, and few have examined the size of effects. Paternal size and body composition also play a role, primarily through the fetal genome, although few studies have investigated relationships with neonatal phenotype.
Data from the UK, Finland, India, Sri Lanka, China, DR Congo, Nigeria and Jamaica were used to investigate the effects of maternal measures including estimates of muscle and fat (derived at 30-weeks gestation, N=16 418), and also paternal size (N=3 733) on neonatal phenotype, for singleton, liveborn, term births.
After accounting for variation in maternal size and shape across populations, differences in neonatal phenotype were markedly reduced. Mother-baby relationships were similar across populations, although some were stronger in developing countries. Maternal height was generally the strongest predictor of neonatal length, maternal head circumference of neonatal head circumference, and maternal skinfold thickness of neonatal skinfolds. Relationships with maternal arm muscle area were generally weak. Data from fathers were limited to height and body mass index, but when compared with maternal height and body mass index, paternal effects were weaker in most studies.
Differences in maternal body composition account for a large part of the geographical variation in neonatal phenotype. The size of the effects of all maternal measures on neonatal phenotype suggests that nutrition at every stage of the mother's life cycle may influence fetal growth. Further research is needed into father-baby relationships and the genetic mechanisms which influence fetal growth.