Using a population-based birth cohort in upstate New York (2008–2010), we examined the determinants of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) measured in newborn dried blood spots (n = 2,637). We also examined the association between neonatal BDNF and children's development. The cohort was initially designed to examine the influence of infertility treatment on child development but found no impact. Mothers rated children's development in five domains repeatedly through age 3 years. Socioeconomic and maternal lifestyle determinants of BDNF were examined using multivariable linear regression models. Generalized linear mixed models estimated odds ratios for neonatal BDNF in relation to failing a developmental domain. Smoking and drinking in pregnancy, nulliparity, non-White ethnicity/race, and prepregnancy obesity were associated with lower neonatal BDNF. Neonatal BDNF was not associated with failure for developmental domains; however, there was an interaction between BDNF and preterm birth. In preterm infants, a higher BDNF was associated with lower odds of failing any developmental domains, after adjusting for confounders and infertility treatment. This result was particularly significant for failure in communication. Our findings suggest that BDNF levels in neonates may be impacted by maternal lifestyle characteristics. More specifically, lower neonatal BDNF might be an early marker of aberrant neurodevelopment in preterm infants.