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Open Access Research article

Reexamining the effects of gestational age, fetal growth, and maternal smoking on neonatal mortality

Cande V Ananth1* and Robert W Platt2

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1977, USA

2 Departments of Pediatrics, and of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2004, 4:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-4-22

Published: 1 December 2004



Low birth weight (<2,500 g) is a strong predictor of infant mortality. Yet low birth weight, in isolation, is uninformative since it is comprised of two intertwined components: preterm delivery and reduced fetal growth. Through nonparametric logistic regression models, we examine the effects of gestational age, fetal growth, and maternal smoking on neonatal mortality.


We derived data on over 10 million singleton live births delivered at ≥ 24 weeks from the 1998–2000 U.S. natality data files. Nonparametric multivariable logistic regression based on generalized additive models was used to examine neonatal mortality (deaths within the first 28 days) in relation to fetal growth (gestational age-specific standardized birth weight), gestational age, and number of cigarettes smoked per day. All analyses were further adjusted for the confounding effects due to maternal age and gravidity.


The relationship between standardized birth weight and neonatal mortality is nonlinear; mortality is high at low z-score birth weights, drops precipitously with increasing z-score birth weight, and begins to flatten for heavier infants. Gestational age is also strongly associated with mortality, with patterns similar to those of z-score birth weight. Although the direct effect of smoking on neonatal mortality is weak, its effects (on mortality) appear to be largely mediated through reduced fetal growth and, to a lesser extent, through shortened gestation. In fact, the association between smoking and reduced fetal growth gets stronger as pregnancies approach term.


Our study provides important insights regarding the combined effects of fetal growth, gestational age, and smoking on neonatal mortality. The findings suggest that the effect of maternal smoking on neonatal mortality is largely mediated through reduced fetal growth.