The shorter an expectant mother is, the smaller her baby may become and the more highly the mother gets exposed to a risk of preterm birth.

While preterm births are usually linked with risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, being underweight or obese, carrying more than one baby, vaginal infections, psychological stress and tobacco and smoking, a new research found that the height of an expectant mother is directly linked with preterm birth.

Investigators from March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center - Ohio Collaborative looked at data from almost 3,500 women from Norway, Denmark and Finland, and their babies. They found that genetic factors in maternal height contributed to the development of a fetal environment and influenced the length of pregnancy, along with the frequency of prematurity. The researchers found that transmitted genes play a role in birth length and birth weight.

These findings were further discussed on the research paper published in the online journal PLOS Medicine.

"Our finding shows that a mother's height has a direct impact on how long her pregnancy lasts," said Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, co-director of the Perinatal Institute at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, who is also the lead investigator of the Ohio Collaborative.

Muglia explained that it is unclear how it exactly happens; however, apart from a preterm birth's link to unknown genes, it also highlights the importance of a woman's lifetime of nutrition, as well as environmental factors.

According to the study, an increase of one centimeter in height equaled about 0.4 gestational days. Muglia said that while the differences are relatively small, they are statistically significant. The study's lead investigator emphasized that these findings may eventually shed light on how to help combat a problem affecting millions of babies worldwide each year.

In the United States, preterm birth is the number one cause of fatalities in newborn babies. Almost half a million babies are born earlier than expected. These more than 450,000 preterm babies make up a national preterm birth rate worse than those in other high-resource countries. All over the world, 15 million babies are born too soon, with more than one million fatalities that result from complications of early birth. On the other hand, babies who make it after preterm birth are usually faced with lifelong health problems, such as breathing problems, vision loss, jaundice, cerebral palsy and delays in intellectual development. 

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