Maternal undernutrition during mid-pregnancy in sheep. Placental size and its relationship to calcium transfer during late pregnancy

Br J Nutr. 1991 Mar;65(2):157-68. doi: 10.1079/bjn19910077.


The aim of the present experiment was to determine the relationship between placental and fetal weight after placental growth had been retarded by maternal undernutrition. Placental weight and fetal weight were measured in single-lamb-bearing ewes which were well-fed throughout pregnancy, or severely undernourished between the 30th and 96th day of pregnancy. Placental transfer of calcium and whole-body metabolism of both glucose and Ca were measured during late pregnancy. The change in fleece-adjusted live weight between the 30th and 96th day of pregnancy was 99 (SE 9.8) and -146 (SE 9.6) g/d for the well-fed and undernourished ewes respectively. The condition score of well-fed ewes did not significantly change between the 96th (2.9 (SE 0.08)) and 140th (3.0(SE 0.13)) day of pregnancy, while it increased from 1.6 (SE 0.15) to 2.3 (SE 0.11) for the previously undernourished group. Undernutrition caused an increase (P less than 0.01) in placental weight measured on the 96th (21%) and 140th (30%) day of pregnancy. In contrast fetal growth was not significantly affected by maternal undernutrition. While the voluntary dry matter intakes (g/d) of previously undernourished ewes after the 97th day of pregnancy were higher than for their well-fed counterparts, there was no significant difference between whole-body glucose or Ca metabolism, or the placental transfer of Ca measured during late pregnancy. This experiment confirms earlier reports of an increase in placental weight as a result of maternal undernutrition during mid-pregnancy; but the factors causing and the functional significance of this response have not been identified. Contrary to earlier proposals, placental weight per se did not limit fetal growth during late pregnancy. It is hypothesized that a combination of factors originating from maternal, placental and fetal sources act together to regulate growth of the fetus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / physiology*
  • Nutrition Disorders / metabolism*
  • Nutrition Disorders / pathology
  • Organ Size
  • Placenta / pathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy Complications / pathology
  • Sheep / metabolism*


  • Glucose
  • Calcium