Malnutrition is the word we associate with the Third World and emaciated faces desperate for food and fresh water. However, malnutrition affects people all over the world from all social classes and in all conditions, even during pregnancy.
A pregnant woman must be in tiptop condition to support both her own body, and the developing body of her unborn child. Never in a woman’s life will a properly balanced diet with the correct levels of nutrition be more important. Many think they should be ‘eating for two’, but really only an extra 200 calories per day are required, and only during the third trimester.
New research suggests that if a mother wishes to, it is safe to diet during pregnancy if they are working to lose a small amount of weight or to maintain a healthy weight already attained. However, the diet must ensure the mother takes in everything she needs.
Sometimes during pregnancy, a mother may suffer malnutrition. This could be for a number of reasons:
- Pre-existing medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis, colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Severe morning sickness
- Psychiatric conditions such as body dysmorphia or anorexia.
Thankfully, pre-existing medical conditions can be managed during pregnancy, and mothers may need to supplement their diet with advanced medical nutrition. Where malnutrition is caused by severe morning sickness, this should improve once the morning sickness has passed (usually between 14 and 16 weeks) although some mothers do have it to a degree for most of their pregnancy.
It is harder when a pregnant woman suffers from anorexia or body dysmorphia, as the problem lies deeper, often stemming from insecurity and may require constant hospital monitoring.
Malnutrition during pregnancy not only weakens the mother, making it difficult for her to carry the baby, but can also have both short-term and long-term implications for her baby. Anaemia resulting from lack of iron in the diet means that less oxygenated blood travels around the body and to the placenta. If baby’s brain tissue does not get enough oxygen it can cause mental defects.
One of the biggest implications of malnutrition is a low birth weight baby. Lighter babies can be harder to deliver and there is also a higher risk of postpartum haemorrhaging for mum. Having a low birth weight can also cause a lot of problems for the infant outside of the womb, such as respiratory complications (the baby may need some help with their breathing or may spend some time in the special care unit). Other problems can include poor vision, low co-ordination, faltering growth and impairment to cognitive development.
For many mums, malnutrition is completely manageable if not preventable. By ensuring a healthy intake from discovering the pregnancy, you can give your baby the best start in life before they are even born. Speak to your midwife or healthcare professional if you are concerned about malnutrition during your pregnancy.
” This article was written by Bianca Ridley, a nutritionist who is currently working with Nutricia, the largest specialist nutrition company in Europe. You may contact Bianca through her email firstname.lastname@example.org“