Birthweight is used as an indicator of intrauterine growth, and determinants of birthweight are widely studied. Less is known about determinants of deviating patterns of growth in utero. We aimed to study the effects of maternal characteristics on both birthweight and fetal growth in third trimester and introduce placental weight as a possible determinant of both birthweight and fetal growth in third trimester.
The STORK study is a prospective cohort study including 1031 healthy pregnant women of Scandinavian heritage with singleton pregnancies. Maternal determinants (age, parity, body mass index (BMI), gestational weight gain and fasting plasma glucose) of birthweight and fetal growth estimated by biometric ultrasound measures were explored by linear regression models. Two models were fitted, one with only maternal characteristics and one which included placental weight.
Placental weight was a significant determinant of birthweight. Parity, BMI, weight gain and fasting glucose remained significant when adjusted for placental weight. Introducing placental weight as a covariate reduced the effect estimate of the other variables in the model by 62% for BMI, 40% for weight gain, 33% for glucose and 22% for parity. Determinants of fetal growth were parity, BMI and weight gain, but not fasting glucose. Placental weight was significant as an independent variable. Parity, BMI and weight gain remained significant when adjusted for placental weight. Introducing placental weight reduced the effect of BMI on fetal growth by 23%, weight gain by 14% and parity by 17%.
In conclusion, we find that placental weight is an important determinant of both birthweight and fetal growth. Our findings indicate that placental weight markedly modifies the effect of maternal determinants of both birthweight and fetal growth. The differential effect of third trimester glucose on birthweight and growth parameters illustrates that birthweight and fetal growth are not identical entities.