To determine factors associated with fetal growth, preterm delivery and stillbirth in an area of high malaria transmission in Southern Malawi, a cross-sectional study of pregnant women attending and delivering at two study hospitals was undertaken. A total of 243 (17·3%) babies were preterm and 54 (3·7%) stillborn. Intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) occurred in 285 (20·3%), of whom 109 (38·2%) were low birthweight and 26 (9·1%) preterm. Factors associated with IUGR were maternal short stature [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 1·6, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1·0–2·5]; primigravidae (AOR 1·9, 95% CI 1·4–2·7); placental or peripheral malaria at delivery (AOR 1·4, 95% CI 1·0–1·9) and maternal anaemia at recruitment (Hb <8 g/dl) (AOR 1·9, 95% CI 1·3–2·7). Increasing parasite density in the placenta was associated with both IUGR (P=0·008) and prematurity (P=0·02). Factors associated with disproportionate fetal growth were maternal malnutrition [mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) <23 cm, AOR 1·9, 95% CI 1·0–3·7] and primigravidae (AOR 1·8, 95% CI 1·0–3·1). Preterm delivery and stillbirth were associated with <5 antenatal care visits (AOR 2·2, 95% CI 1·3–3·7 and AOR 3·1, 95% CI 1·4–7·0 respectively) and stillbirth with a positive Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test (AOR 4·7, 95% CI 1·5–14·8). Interventions to reduce poor pregnancy outcomes must reduce the burden of malaria in pregnancy, improve antenatal care and maternal malnutrition.