Several studies have shown that a baby's birthweight correlates with the birthweight and adult size of both its parents, but more strongly with those of its mother, suggesting that both the 'maternal environment' and inherited genes influence size at birth. There are no previous such intergenerational data from India. Holdsworth Memorial Hospital (HMH), Mysore, South India, has preserved birth records containing the birthweight, length and head circumference of all newborns since 1934. We identified 468 mother-offspring and 341 father-offspring pairs born in the hospital. Daughters and sons (born 1990-95) were heavier at birth than their mothers and fathers, respectively, with a mean (SD) increase in birthweight of 121 g (24 g) between the two generations. The birthweight of both parents predicted offspring birthweight equally (mother: regression slope beta = 255 g/kg; father beta = 251 g/kg; P < 0.001 for both). Paternal birth length had a stronger effect than maternal birth length on offspring birth length. The mother's adult body mass index (BMI) had a greater effect than paternal BMI on offspring birthweight (mother: 18 g/kg/m(2); P < 0.001; father: 15 g/kg/m(2); P = 0.04). In a regression model including data for both parents (available for 57 children) this difference was greater (mother: 46 g/kg/m(2); P < 0.001; father: -10 g/kg/m(2); ns). In contrast, paternal height had stronger effects than maternal height on offspring birth length (mother: 0.8 mm/cm; ns; father: 1.5 mm/cm; P < 0.001). In conclusion, size at birth is influenced by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Both maternal and paternal birthweight correlate with offspring size at birth. Maternal nutritional status (BMI) influences birthweight. Paternal factors appear to contribute to neonatal skeletal size.