Malnutrition and Pregnancy – Risks for Mother and Baby

Here we explain in detail the risks of malnutrition for a mother and her baby during pregnancy. It also talks about the long-term health risks.

Malnutrition and Pregnancy – Risks for Mother and Baby
Impact of Malnutrition - Mother, Infant and Young Child

Our bodies need nutrients for normal functioning and good health. Pregnancy is a period when the nutrient intake is crucial as the baby in the womb needs nutrition for healthy growth and development. The mother also requires essential nutrients that will help her body withstand the rigors of pregnancy.

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition happens when the body does not get sufficient nutrients that are essential for it to function normally. Nutrients are classified as Macronutrients (Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), Micronutrients (Vitamins and minerals), and water. As a result, we can suffer from serious deficiency diseases that can affect the quality of our lives.

What Causes Malnutrition?

1. Ignorance

Not knowing about the importance of nutrients can lead to malnutrition as the individual will not have a healthy, balanced diet.

2. Illness and Infections

Diarrhea and vomiting can prevent a person from getting adequate nutrition. Illnesses, infections, and mental illnesses like depression can also affect a person’s ability to consume and digest nutritious food. They can cause a loss of appetite and affect the digestive system.

3. Socio-economic Conditions

Families in low-income groups may lack financial resources to buy healthy food. This can lead to malnutrition in such individuals.

4. Insufficient Intake

During pregnancy, a woman requires around 300 extra calories a day. If the woman does not consume adequate quantities of healthy food, it can lead to malnutrition.

Health Risks of Malnutrition in Pregnancy

Malnutrition during pregnancy can cause several health problems in both the mother-to-be and her developing baby. Here are the health risks of malnutrition during pregnancy:

1. Risks for Mother

  • Maternal Mortality – Women who are under-nourished before and during pregnancy have a higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.

  • Risk of Miscarriage – Under-nourished women are at a higher risk of miscarrying.

  • Dental Problems Moms-to-be who are malnourished can suffer from tooth decay and other dental problems.

  • Osteomalacia This is a condition where the bones of a malnourished woman become too soft and brittle.

  • Anemia Iron deficiency can cause anemia in moms-to-be. This means that they have fewer red blood cells than normal, so the body’s cells do not receive enough oxygen.

  • Toxaemia – Preeclampsia or toxemia is a condition where the blood pressure and protein level in the blood of a pregnant woman is dangerously high. This can endanger the life of both the mom and the baby.

2. Risks for Baby

Malnutrition during pregnancy effects on baby include –

  • Stillbirth – Babies that are malnourished do not grow and develop properly and could die in the womb.

  • Premature Birth Babies born prematurely are underdeveloped and could suffer from various problems such as poor vision, weak muscles, brain damage, poor growth rate, etc. They can also get necrotizing enterocolitis, where bacteria invade and destroy their intestines.

  • Perinatal mortality – Babies of women who were undernourished during pregnancy have a higher risk of dying in the 1st week of birth.

  • Birth DefectsDeficiency of micronutrients during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects in the baby. For example, a deficiency of folic acid can cause Spina bifida in babies, where the baby is born with a deformed spinal cord. This affects their ability to walk, and control bowel and bladder movements.

  • Underdeveloped Organs  Malnourished babies can be born with underdeveloped organs, which can seriously affect the quality of their lives.