Background: Placental growth responds to maternal influences including diet. We have examined placental size, shape and efficiency among babies born around the time of the 5-month wartime famine in Holland 1944-1945.
Methods: We examined the birth records of 2414 term singleton babies born in Amsterdam during 1943-1947. The records included the size of the baby and the thickness of the placental surface, together with its length and breadth which we used to calculate its area and volume.
Results: Compared to babies born before the famine babies who were in utero during the famine had smaller placental areas. Babies whose mothers conceived after the famine ended also had smaller placental areas. Famine was associated with a 19 cm(2) decrease in area. Babies who were in mid-late gestation during the famine were 160 g lighter than would have been predicted from their placental area (p < 0.001). Babies who were in early gestation during the famine, or who were conceived after it had ended were 102 g heavier than would have been predicted from their placental area (p < 0.001). These latter babies were either longer or had larger head circumferences depending on when the mother experienced the famine. Among babies who were in early gestation during the famine the reduction in placental area was greater in boys than girls (p for interaction 0.03).
Conclusion: Famine impaired the normal processes of placentation, even among babies who were conceived after it had ended. In babies who were in mid-late gestation during the famine, the placenta was less efficient. In babies who were in early gestation during the famine, or who were conceived after it had ended, the placenta was more efficient. The placentas of boys and girls responded differently to famine.
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