We have always talked about the importance of prenatal nutrition but we still do not appreciate the magnitude of the effects as we should and it is my goal to help us understand in the easiest way. Listen to this.
If a pregnant woman found herself in a situation where her nutrition conditions are poor for example in times of famine, war or simply food scarcity, a pregnant woman can modify the development of her unborn child such that it will be prepared for survival in an environment in which resources are likely to be short. Whereas this may sound like a good or let us say reasonable thing nature allows so that in whatever situation, life can be brought forth, it has a downside to it.
In 1992, Nick Hales and David Barker proposed a hypothesis that an undernourished fetus becomes thrifty which explains the situation I described above. Fetal undernutrition leads to impaired development of the pancreas, liver, and other tissues (e.g., muscle), leading to low insulin secretion and insulin resistance, which maintains high levels of sugar in the fetal bloodstream to preserve brain development, but may trade-off muscle development. Once adopted, this thrifty behaviour becomes permanent and, combined with adiposity in later life, leads to type 2 diabetes.
To put it in simple terms when this child comes into the world and is now able to afford better nutrition conditions, and get nutrients in the right amounts, they are at risk of several chronic conditions later in life, including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension resulting from adaptations made by the fetus in an environment limited in its supply of nutrients.
In the American journal of clinical nutrition, it is noted that in developing countries, the health and nutrition of females throughout their entire life is affected by complex and highly interrelated biological, social, cultural, and health service-related factors. Good maternal nutrition is important for the health and reproductive performance of women and the health, survival, and development of their children.
Over 200 million women become pregnant each year with many of these at risk of suffering from both ongoing nutritional deficiencies and the long-term cumulative consequences of undernutrition during childhood. Pregnancy-related health and nutritional problems affect a woman’s quality of life, that of her newborn infant well beyond delivery, and that of her family and community.
The effect of women’s prenatal health and nutritional status on child growth, health, survival, and development occurs both through reproductive performance and survival and through fetal growth and development.
Strategies to improve prenatal nutrition
Promotion of optimal nutrition
This needs to be emphasized right from childhood especially among girls because it can result in a buildup of the nutritional reserves needed during periods of increased nutritional demand, including the adolescent growth spurt, pregnancy, and lactation. This can be done by all players in the field like myself (nutritionists) to make nutrition information as common and accessible as silver in the times of Solomon’s reign of Israel. Community- and facility-based health and nutritional care can be combined just like we have been doing for malaria eradication programs.
Invest in female education
I know this has been a song that has been singing for so long but before you come at me about the increasing imbalance that is being caused by over pushing for investment in female education hear me out. There is strong evidence that associates higher levels of maternal education with improved child survival and nutritional status. Educating women means they will make better-informed decisions in terms of their nutrition and health for both themselves and their families. For those in school, how can we include nutrition education in the curriculum right from primary school? We continue to witness teenage pregnancies and we cannot afford to wait until they are in tertiary school for them to know about nutrition in its totality.
Increase access to quality nutrition services
Much as nutrition is a vital component of antennal visits, the reality is that it is not held in high regard and is often missed or talked about in passing yet it determines a lot in the development of a growing child. This can begin with expectant mothers demanding these services because they need them. This way stakeholders will strengthen the healthcare delivery infrastructure; improve the quality of services for women including nutritional services and increase the number of healthcare providers for women. This will make monitoring the nutrition status of pregnant women easy and we can avert many of these negative consequences when it is still early.
- In a bid not to write a thesis, I will stop here and hope this can be a trigger for us to think about the nutrition health of our women whose health and nutrition status directly affects the health of a child and consequently a whole generation.
Do not hesitate to share with me your thoughts in the comments.
See you next Wednesday