Malnutrition in Pregnancy: Causes, Health Risks & Prevention

Malnutrition and Pregnancy – Risks for Mother and Baby

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 rigours of pregnancy. Therefore, malnutrition is a serious concern among pregnant women. Let’s understand what it is, its causes, risks and how it can be prevented. 

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

Diarrhoea 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. Dental Problems

Painful teeth problems and gum disease can prevent a person from consuming nutritious food.

Dental Problems

5. Medication

Use of some kinds of medicines can disrupt nutrient absorption in the body, thus causing malnutrition.

6. Morning Sickness

Severe morning sickness during pregnancy can hamper a woman’s ability to consume healthy food and may lead to malnutrition.

7. 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 the 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.
  • Anaemia – Iron deficiency can cause anaemia 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 toxaemia is a condition where the blood pressure and the protein level in the blood of a pregnant woman are dangerously high. This can endanger the life of both the mom and the baby.

2. Risks for the Baby

Malnutrition during pregnancy effects on the baby inside the womb, too.

  • 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 necrotising 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 Defects – Deficiency of micronutrients during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects in the baby. For example, 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.

Risks for the Baby

3. Long-Term Health Risk for the Child

  • Diabetes Mellitus – Malnourished babies are at a much higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes later in their lives.
  • Cardiovascular Diseases – These babies also develop high blood pressure and heart disease in adulthood.
  • Osteoporosis – Under-nourished babies suffer from osteoporosis, a condition where the bones are weak and brittle and prone to fractures.
  • Low IQ and Cognitive Impairment – Under-nourishment also causes babies to grow up with lower IQ than normal and suffer from cognitive impairment, where a person has problems learning new things, remembering, and making decisions in daily life.

How Can Malnutrition Be Prevented?

Malnutrition can be prevented by having a balanced diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, water, dietary fibre, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Signs and symptoms of malnutrition in pregnancy include fatigue, anaemia, low pregnancy weight, dizziness, high blood pressurehair loss, dry skin, dental problems, and low immunity.

To prevent malnutrition, women who plan to conceive should take prenatal vitamins, eat healthy food and exercise regularly. During the pregnancy, they should eat nutritious food and continue to take their pregnancy vitamins. This ensures that both mother and the newborn are hale and healthy.

Also Read: Role of Estrogen during Pregnancy

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