The height and weight of a newborn baby is largely governed by his or her own genes, but it's the height of the mother that's giving researchers a telltale sign, reports the Telegraph. Specifically, shorter women have shorter pregnancies and thus more premature babies, report investigators at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative in the journal PLOS Medicine. The team analyzed 3,485 Nordic women and their babies, and found that a woman's height actually shapes the fetal environment, thereby influencing the length of her pregnancy.
This has broad health implications around the world, where 15 million babies are born prematurely every year and more than 1 million of them die due to complications of early birth—which include breathing problems, vision loss, and intellectual delays, report researchers in a press release. "That a woman's height influences gestational length, independent of the genes she passes on that determine fetal size, is a major finding by our research networks, and the first of what we expect to be many genetic contributions," one researcher says. (Premature birth is now the world's top killer of children under 5.)