Pregnancy is one of the defining moments in the motherhood journey. The transition from an egg during conception to a fetus with facial features, an audible heartbeat, and movements that can be felt has a lot of emotions attached. The mere thought that any milestone has been unachieved is worrisome to the mother because all she hopes for is a healthy, well-developed fetus. Besides the regular check-up sessions and scans, we ought to be keen on what is on the plate.
Nutrition is the most influential non-genetic factor in fetal growth and development. Diet influences the fetus’s health and nutrition status. The maternal diet directly affects the supply of essential nutrients while indirectly altering the expression of maternal and fetal endocrine mechanisms that regulate the uptake and utilization of nutrients. Though the nutritional requirements for fetal growth are minimal in the first trimester, metabolic rate and growth are high.
However, regardless of whatever pregnancy stage, the right nutrition is paramount. Maternal malnutrition in the form of undernutrition and overnutrition harms the developing fetus. Maternal undernutrition and nutritional deficiencies are influenced by food inaccessibility, food aversions, cultural prohibitions, and severe nausea or hyperemesis gravidarum (severe vomiting).
The effects of maternal undernutrition, deficiencies, and overnutrition are intrauterine growth retardation, low nutrient stores, and congenital anomalies like spina bifida, anencephaly, and microcephaly. These effects transcend beyond childhood when poorly managed and can result in morbidity and mortality. It is, therefore, necessary to consider a nutrient-dense diet not only rich in macronutrients but also micronutrients. Micronutrients such as Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Magnesium, and Folic Acid facilitate fetal organogenesis.
As per the WHO 2018 report, deaths as a result of low birth weight were 11,049. Further, according to research by Victor K. in 2013, the prevalence of congenital malformations was at 6.3 per 1000 children. With these statistics in play, the government has put measures in place to reduce neonatal deaths as a result of low birth weight as well as congenital anomalies. Among the interventions are:
- Public health education and awareness through programs such as ‘Malezi Bora’ where nutritional counseling occurs
- Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation to reduce the congenital anomalies such as spina bifida and microencephaly
- Nutritional supplementation using the fortified blended flour for underweight expectant moms
- Weight monitoring. Low rate of pregnancy weight gain is associated increased with increased risk of preterm birth (Abrams B, 2000), and low second- or third-trimester weight gain is associated with spontaneous preterm delivery (Neggers Y, 2003)
- Free antenatal care in government facilities to ensure accessibility of maternal health care for all
In addition to the government measures in place, it is our role to support our expectant mothers by encouraging them to eat nutrient-dense food regardless of the aversions and cultural restrictions. It will help bring forth a generation that has no congenital malformations and is functional. As for the expectant moms, the life you carry is precious and is heavily dependent on how well you feed it.