Are we failing on maternal nutrition?

Bangladesh, 16 December 2020 - 

This blog has first been featured in Devex.

Maternal nutrition has often been a neglected area and the global burden of maternal undernutrition in low-and middle-income countries remains staggeringly high. An estimated 450 million women have short stature, 240 million are underweight with a body mass index below 18.5, and 496 million are anemic.

In addition to the deleterious effects on her own health, poor maternal nutrition also increases a mother’s chance of giving birth to a baby with low birth weight, or LBW, small-for-gestational-age, or preterm. If we fail to address maternal nutrition, the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition and its devastating consequences will persist.

For more than 50 years, the only nutritional supplement that most pregnant women in LMICs have received when they attend an antenatal care clinic is iron and folic acid, or IFA. This is irrespective of her nutritional status or her ability to access a nutritious diet.

Yet there is clear evidence that deficiencies in other micronutrients remain alarmingly high. For example, on average, 63% of women of reproductive age in LMICs are vitamin-D-deficient, 41% are zinc-deficient, and 40% are iodine-deficient.

After 20 years of successful research, there is a product that has proven far superior to IFA for improving birth outcomes. Multiple micronutrient supplements contain a combination of 15 vitamins and minerals-including iron and folic acid -which all play a critical role in the growth and development of the baby. As of today, only around 3% of pregnant women in LMICs have access to MMS in a handful of countries.

Rochona is a 28-year-old mother of two. She started taking MMS when she was three months pregnant with her son. Rochona says she was glad to continue investing the 180 taka-around $2-per month per box once she noticed the changes in herself. She claims that she felt less tired, did not have any issues with her appetite, and there was not a single day during her pregnancy where she fell ill, unlike her first pregnancy with her daughter, when she did not take MMS. Her son, Ali Hamza, was born at a healthy weight.

Multiple micronutrient supplements

Zinc, folate, selenium, copper, and vitamins B6, B12, D, and E are essential for implantation and cell growth in the earliest stages of gestation while zinc, folate, and vitamin D, among others, contribute to placental development and function.

Iron, zinc, folate, and vitamins B6 and A support organ and fetal central nervous system development while iodine is essential for brain development.

Deficiencies in micronutrients can result in a range of birth defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including LBW and its two underlying causes: preterm delivery and intrauterine growth restriction.