Optimal Fetal Growth
Depends on Good Maternal Nutrition

Indeed, there are many factors that influence fetal growth, but availability of nutrients is the most basic need of child growth and development.

Fetus, throughout the intrauterine development, is totally dependent on the nutrients received through the placenta. Therefore the mother’s nutrition plays a crucial role in optimal fetal growth.

Mother's nutrition

Well nourished mother gives birth to a well formed baby. A poorly nourished woman may not even conceive; and if she does there is increased risk for growth disorders in the offspring.

The consequences depend on the timing, severity, and duration of nutrition deprivation.

Poor weigh gain is well documented in fetuses of the mothers who are deprived of adequate nutrients.

Nutritionally deprived low birth weight infants have proportionately small organs including the brain.

Damage occurs at the cellular level and the functional capacity of cells gets marred. Affected neonates often present with metabolic disorders.

During the growth spurt of infancy, the catch up growth seen in these children helps reverse the compromised cellular functions only if the size of cell (hypertrophy) is affected.

In event of severe nutrition deprivation in the mother, right from early days of pregnancy, leads to irreversible compromise in fetal cell formation. As already noted in the write up on fetal growth under fetus growth pattern, the first 6 months of intrauterine life are the formative phase of fetal growth. The loss in adequate number of cells formation is permanent.

Nutrition deprivation in pregnant women could be due to:

  • Excessive vomiting associated with morning sickness
    (Hyperemesis gravidum)

  • Fear of gaining weight during pregnancy (Pregorexia)

  • Disturbed psychology or emotional turmoil

  • Busy work schedule

  • Irregular meals
  • Mothers’ lifestyle

  • Lack of awareness

  • Chronic sickness in mother

  • Moved to new locality

  • Financial constrain

Regular meals should be eaten by an expectant mother to maintain the uniform flow of nutrients to the fetus. Irregular meals could lead to long periods of nutrition deprivation in the fetus.

In the modern fast pace of life, it is becoming increasingly common to skip breakfast. This simple act of omission can lead to fetal growth retardation, developmental defects and premature birth.

Essential nutritional supplements

Folic Acid

Adequate intake of folic acid supplementation by the mother reduces the risk neural tube formation defects like spina bifida, meningomylocele and anenchephaly.

Folic acid supplementation is recommended for all women, who have the possibility of becoming pregnant in the dose of 400 micro grams (0.4 milligram) per day.

Folic acid is required for DNA synthesis in the rapidly growing new cells. Therefore, it is most crucial during the first 3 months of pregnancy, the active formative phase of fetal growth, but is best if continued throughout the pregnancy.

Women predisposed to have babies with neural tube defects (NTD) and those with higher than normal new cell formation are recommended higher dose of folic acid: 4-5 milligrams per day (10 times higher than the usual). This includes mothers with:

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Anti-convulsant medication

  • Previous child affected by neural tube defect (NTD)

  • Family history of neural tube defects (NTD)

  • Multiple pregnancies

  • Haemolytic anaemia

The higher dose schedule should be started 1 month prior to planning the pregnancy and at least through the first three months of pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy is still safer. However, it should be taken only with the knowledge and consent of the attending physician

Calcium, vitamin D, Iron and B complex supplementation are also recommended during pregnancy.

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Guard against overdose of nutritional supplements

The need of nutrients and their benefits is very much emphasized all the time. Indulgence into over-the-counter vitamin and micro-nutrient supplements naturally follows.

The rule of the thumb is “anything in excess can be harmful”, and that holds true even for vitamins and micro-nutrients.

Unfortunately, till date there are no existing regulations for reporting the harmful effects of the dietary supplements.

Therefore, it is safest to avoid the urge of self medication. Take only the prenatal vitamins' supplements prescribed by your own health care provider. It is his job to remember which ones could be toxic and at what dose.

For related pages kindly see the right column.

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Fetus: Growth Stages and Viability

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Fetal Viability

Morbidity & Mortality

Fetal Growth

Mother's Nutrition

Folic Acid Supplementation

Fetal Growth Chart


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