Prenatal development is known to be extremely sensitive to maternal and environmental challenges. In this study, we hypothesize that body growth and lactation during gestation in cattle reduce nutrient availability for the pregnant uterus, with consequences for placental development. Fetal membranes of 16 growing heifers and 27 fully grown cows of the Belgian Blue (BB) breed were compared to determine the effect of body growth on placental development. Furthermore, the fetal membranes of 49 lactating Holstein Friesian (HF) cows and 27 HF heifers were compared to study the impact of dam lactation compared to dam body growth. After parturition, calf birth weight and body measurements of dam and calf were recorded, as well as weight of total fetal membranes, cotyledons and intercotyledonary membranes. All cotyledons were individually measured to calculate both the surface of each individual cotyledon and the total cotyledonary surface per placenta. Total cotyledonary surface was unaffected by breed or the breed×parity interaction. Besides a 0.3 kg lower cotyledonary weight (P=0.007), heifer placentas had a smaller total cotyledonary surface compared with placentas of cows (0.48±0.017 v. 0.54±0.014 m2, respectively, P<0.001). Within the BB breed, fetal membranes of heifers had a 1.5 kg lower total weight and 1.0 kg lower intercotyledonary membrane weight (P<0.005) compared with cows. A cotyledon number of only 91±5.4 was found in multiparous BB dams, while growing BB heifers had a higher cotyledon number (126±6.7, P<0.001), but a greater proportion of smaller cotyledons (<40 cm2). Within the HF breed, no parity effect on intercotyledonary membrane weight, cotyledon number and individual cotyledonary surface was found. Placental efficiency (calf weight/total cotyledonary surface) was similar in HF and BB heifers but significantly higher in multiparous BB compared with multiparous HF dams (106.0±20.45 v. 74.3±12.27 kg/m2, respectively, P<0.001). Furthermore, a seasonal effect on placental development was found, with winter and spring placentas having smaller cotyledons than summer and fall placentas (P<0.001). Main findings of the present study are that lactation and maternal growth during gestation entail a comparable nutrient diverting constraint, which might alter placental development. However, results suggest that the placenta is able to manage this situation through two potential compensation mechanisms. In early pregnancy the placenta might cope by establishing a higher number of cotyledons, while in late gestation a compensatory expansion of the cotyledonary surface is suggested to meet the nutrient demand of the fetus.