Proper Maternal Nutrition Prevents Birth Defects

Proper Maternal Nutrition Prevents Birth Defects

Birth defects or physical abnormalities at birth can lead to physical and mental disabilities or death of babies less than one year old. The proper nutrition of a woman prior to conception and during her pregnancy period is important in significantly preventing the occurrence of birth defects.

Neural Tube Birth Defects in Infants

A pregnant woman who lacks vitamin B9, also called folate and folic acid, may possibly give birth to a baby with neural tube defects, such as anencephaly and spina bifida. The neural tube defects result from a problem with the development of an infant’s brain and spinal cord during the first trimester of pregnancy. A baby with spina bifida can suffer from nerve damage and paralysis of the legs, because the spinal column fails to completely close. While a baby with anencephaly may shortly die, because the brain does not develop properly.

To prevent neural tube defects, it is important that the mother takes sufficient dosage of folic acid before and during pregnancy. The mother may take a multivitamin or eat foods that contain folate to meet the Dietary Recommended Intake for folic acid of 400 micrograms per day. Leafy green vegetables, orange juice, fruits, dried beans, peas and fortified grains are good sources of folate.

The intake of vitamin B12 by woman before and during pregnancy is also essential to lower the risk of neural tube defects in her child. A woman’s Dietary Recommended Intake for vitamin B12 during pregnancy is 2.6 micrograms per day. By including milk products, eggs, meat and poultry in the diet, a woman can get the necessary vitamin B12 from the food she eats, unless she has an intestinal disorder that impedes vitamin B12 absorption. Those who do not eat much meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products would need to take supplements for vitamin B12.

Other Birth Defects and their Causes

Pregnant women who are on restricted diets may possibly give birth to infants with neural tube defects. Sometimes, there are cases when moms are subjected to improper diet and they give birth to babies with other health issues. The following are some examples:

Congenital Heart Disease

Pregnant women who do not have enough riboflavin or vitamin B2 and niacin or vitamin B3 in their diet may give birth to infants with congenital heart disease. The risk is higher when the mother’s diet includes foods with high saturated fats content. To prevent this risk, include low-fat or fat-free dairy products, liver and green leafy vegetables in the diet to increase vitamin B2 intake and add fish, chicken, liver, whole grains and nuts to increase vitamin B3 intake.


Gastroschisis is a birth defect in babies that have a fissure or tear in the abdominal wall. A pregnant mom, who has a low body mass index or BMI and a diet that is low in protein or zinc, is at risk of having babies with this birth defect. Other risk factors include the pregnant mother’s lack of proper nutrition and smoking habits.

Congenital diaphragmatic hernia

Babies with CDH have an opening in their diaphragm so that the contents in the abdomen protrude into the thoracic cavity. This birth defect may be caused by a lack of vitamins B12 and E, calcium, selenium and retinol in the diet of a pregnant mom. By taking vitamin supplements, moms reduce the risk of having a child with CDH.

Cleft palate

The birth defect known as cleft palate is the result of non-closure of the roof of the mouth of a baby. It is associated with the newborn of women who didn’t get proper nutrition while pregnant. When lacking in folic acid and vitamin A, a pregnant mom may give birth to a child with an isolated cleft palate, which means there’s no cleft lip.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a woman continues to drink alcohol during pregnancy, her baby may develop FAS or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This condition makes a baby smaller, poorly developed and sickly.

A Word About Prenatal Vitamins

Taking prenatal vitamin supplements not only benefits the mom, but the baby as well. It is very important to include iron and calcium supplements for the baby’s healthy physical development. Incomplete maternal nutrition contributes to the incidence of birth defects, premature births and high risk childbirths.

It’s improper for women to go on a diet during pregnancy. Remember that she should eat more because she is eating for two persons. Her baby’s health depends on it.

Photo credits: Image by o5com via Flickr, CC by-2.0

Categories: Nutrition
Tags: pregnancy

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