By Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, Aug. 18, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A pregnant woman's height may affect her risk for preterm birth, a new study suggests.
Researchers looked at data on nearly 3,500 Nordic women and their babies. They found that shorter mothers had shorter pregnancies, smaller babies and a higher risk for preterm birth.
"Our finding shows that a mother's height has a direct impact on how long her pregnancy lasts," said researcher Dr. Louis Muglia, an investigator with the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative.
"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 in a March of Dimes news release.
That said, short women shouldn't worry that they're destined to deliver prematurely. The study only found an association between short stature and preterm birth, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship.
The study was published online Aug. 18 in the journal PLoS Medicine.
Preterm birth, which takes place before 37 weeks of pregnancy, is the leading cause of death of newborns in the United States, where more than 450,000 babies are born early each year. The country's preterm birth rate is worse than many other wealthy nations, the March of Dimes said.
Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, March of Dimes senior vice president for research and global programs, said his organization's goal is to identify genes that govern fetal growth and length of pregnancy.
"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," he said in the news release.