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Malnutrition in Pregnancy

author image Rebecca Slayton
Rebecca Slayton is a Registered Dietitian and has worked in the nutrition field since 2006. Slayton received the 2005 Betty Feezor Scholarship Award for her studies. She holds a Master of Science in food and nutrition from East Carolina University.
Malnutrition in Pregnancy
Malnutrition in pregnancy can affect your baby’s development. Photo Credit: DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

Your nutrition status can influence not only your health but also the health of your baby. If you were underweight or malnourished before pregnancy, you're at a greater risk of malnutrition during pregnancy. Malnutrition occurs when you don't consume enough calories or enough nutrients to support healthy growth and development. Nutrition should be a top consideration throughout your pregnancy

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Potential Causes of Malnutrition

One of the major contributing factors to malnutrition in pregnancy is extreme nausea and vomiting, also known as hyperemesis. This results in a decrease in caloric intake and also in essential nutrients. While most women have nausea and vomiting at the beginning of their pregnancy, the problem usually slacks off in the second trimester Always discuss nausea and vomiting with your physician; he or she can offer helpful tips or prescribe medication, if necessary. Also, think about what you eat. Some women experience cravings during pregnancy. While nothing else may be appealing, you still need to consume a variety of foods. In extreme cases, some women eat nonfoods such as cornstarch, dirt or ice. Consuming these types of things can cause havoc with your body.

Pregnancy Needs

During pregnancy, your caloric needs increase, but don't use that as an excuse to eat whatever you want. In the first three months of pregnancy, you need an additional 150 calories per day to support the development of your baby. These caloric needs rise to an extra 300 calories per day at month four, due to the extra demands of pregnancy. The need for other key nutrients increases as well, and most physicians will recommend that you take a daily prenatal vitamin. You want to include foods in your diet that are high in folic acid, iron calcium, protein, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Focus on eating a variety from all food groups to guarantee you get necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition.

Health Risk for Baby

You may not be aware that you're pregnant in the beginning, which makes it important to always follow a healthy diet. If you were already malnourished when you became pregnant, you lack the nutritional stores needed to support growth of your baby. A key nutrient, folic acid, is crucial in the first trimester of your pregnancy. If you don't obtain enough through diet or supplements, your baby is at a higher risk of neural tube defects. Other consequences of malnutrition include stillbirth, premature birth, brain damage, perinatal mortality, underdevelopment of organs and infant neurological, respiratory, intestinal and circulatory disorders.

Long-Term Health Risks

The effects of malnutrition vary, based on when it occurs during pregnancy. It can have long-lasting results that affect the quality of your baby’s life into adulthood. Malnutrition during pregnancy increases your baby's risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, breast cancer, chronic kidney failure, infectious diseases, psychiatric disorders and organ dysfunction. In childhood, poor development due to malnutrition can lead to poor performance in school.

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