Low birth weight is associated with an increased risk of neonatal and infant mortality and morbidity, as well as with other adverse conditions later in life. Since the birth weight-specific mortality of a second child depends on the birth weight of an older sibling, a failure to achieve the biologically intended size appears to increase the risk of adverse outcome even in babies who are not classified as small for gestation. In this study, we aimed at quantifying the risk of neonatal death as a function of a baby's failure to fulfil its biologic growth potential across the whole distribution of birth weight.
We predicted the birth weight of 411,957 second babies born in Denmark (1979–2002), given the birth weight of the first, and examined how the ratio of achieved birth weight to predicted birth weight performed in predicting neonatal mortality.
For any achieved birth weight category, the risk of neonatal death increased with decreasing birth weight ratio. However, the risk of neonatal death increased with decreasing birth weight, even among babies who achieved their predicted birth weight.
While a low achieved birth weight was a stronger predictor of mortality, a failure to achieve the predicted birth weight was associated with increased mortality at virtually all birth weights. Use of family data may allow identification of children at risk of adverse health outcomes, especially among babies with apparently "normal" growth.