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Maternal malnutrition; the silent killer

Maternal malnutrition has been linked to new-born deaths and illnesses suffered by new-borns. It’s a reality that many pregnant and breast-feeding mothers do not receive…

Maternal malnutrition has been linked to new-born deaths and illnesses suffered by new-borns. It’s a reality that many pregnant and breast-feeding mothers do not receive the right amount of nutritional needs required for them and the growth of their foetus. Daily Trust on Sunday reports.


Maternal mortality rates (MMR) in Sub-Saharan Africa are at an alarming high. According to reports, Nigeria’s MMR is 630 deaths for every 100,000 live births, placing it 11th out of 184 nations in the world for highest MMR.

In Africa, maternal mortality has been linked to malnutrition as a major underlying factor. Yet, the majority of interventional programmes are not focused on maternal nutrition-related outcomes but rather on infant and child dietary outcomes.

Women have unique dietary needs throughout their lives, notably before, during, and after pregnancy and lactation, when nutritional risk is greatest. For the survival and wellbeing of mothers and their children, it is essential to provide women with nourishing food as well as adequate services and care.

Women require healthful and safe meals before pregnancy to build up appropriate reserves for pregnancy. The body needs more nutrients and energy during pregnancy and lactation. For the health of the mother and her unborn child during pregnancy and in the early years of life, it is essential to meet these needs.

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Nonetheless, the nutritional status of women is terribly inadequate in many regions of the world. Too many women, particularly young people and those who are nutritionally vulnerable, do not receive the nutrition services they require in order to maintain their health and provide their unborn children the greatest possible chance to live, grow, and develop.

A pregnant lady, Emmannuella Uzo, shared with Daily Trust on Sunday that since being pregnant, she has had to eat three times a day and makes sure she spreads her nutritional needs amongst her three meals.

She said: “Since getting pregnant, I’ve put in effort to ensure that I eat three times a day and most importantly, eat well. My breakfast is usually made up of a lot of proteins, my lunch is a high-carb diet and my dinner is majorly fruits or smoothies.”

Emmanuella also stated that during the course of her pregnancy, she had to switch up her diet and even incorporate meals she didn’t like just to ensure that she and her child are getting the required nutrients.

“Due to my current situation, I am now forced to eat more vegetables than I use to such as ugu, cabbage, spinach etc. Prior to my pregnancy, I always had a problem eating whole fruits, same applies now. So, I blend the fruits into juices and that allows me to consume more as compared to eating it,” she said.

Speaking on balancing her finances with her nutritional needs, Emmanuella said asides the daily purchase of fruits, she has not had to spend so much as her meals are still the basic things she ate when not pregnant.

“There’s nothing really new in my meals since I got pregnant. Apart from the fruits I buy often, every other thing is still the same, like fish, chicken, egg, potatoes, beans etc. I eat in appropriate portions, so foodstuff doesn’t run out quickly,” Emmanuella said.

Pregnant women are known to be picky and choosy with their foods at times. Emmanuella shares that in all trimesters, the one thing she avoided completely was pepper soup.

She said; “In all my trimesters, the one thing I avoided was pepper soup and after that, I completely avoided anything cooked with scent leaf. I wasn’t sure if it was the taste or smell, but it just didn’t seat well with me.”

It’s no rumour that nothing comes between a pregnant woman and her insatiable cravings. According to Emmanuella, she’s indulged in all her cravings and never denied herself what she craves.

“Apart from the pepper soup I said I avoid, I’m open to eating any other thing my body craves, whether it’s healthy or not. The cravings when pregnant is way different from when I’m not pregnant. They are sometimes when you’d try to deny yourself a craving and you can start to feel so down and sad. You won’t be able to eat other foods until they bring whatever it is you desire.”

“I remember a time where I craved roadside noodles and even when they made noodles at home for me, I rejected it until they went and got me the exact type I requested for.”

However, not every woman like Emmanuella is as opportune to eat three times a day and even when they do, still do not meet up with their nutritional requirement.

A trader, Adamma Edu, mentioned that during her pregnancy, she would eat the same meal three times a day because she had to manage the food stuff available to her at the time.

“We barely eat three times a day, even when we do, it’s not the best. Maybe garri or pap in the morning and we won’t eat till evening when we will have swallow and soup or yam and red oil.”

“Having to feed myself properly during the pregnancy phase was very difficult.  There’s no money to buy foodstuff and even when we are able to make sales in the market, the money is barely enough to cater for the whole family talkless of getting the necessary foods that will provide me with the right nutritional requirement,” Adamma said.

Another lady, Felicia Ukamaka, mentioned that in a bid to keep up with some of her nutritional requirements, she added vegetables such as local spinach and carrot to her meals.

She said; “I do not make much from what I sell at the market, so when I’m buying my foodstuff for the house, I just add a bit of green vegetables like spinach and carrot which I can chew when I’m hungry,” she said.

Mrs Ukamaka also noted that since getting pregnant, she had spent more money on foodstuff compared to when it was just she and her husband.

“N10,000 worth of foodstuff will normally last for two to three weeks for both of us, but since I got pregnant, I noticed that we’ve spent at least N5000 more in the last few months on restocking food because now, I eat more,” she said.

Speaking with Darily Trust on Sunday Consulting Gynaecologist University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Dr Adewole, said that for women to be well nourished during pregnancy, it was more about eating right than eating more.

He also said that proper management of resources and early planning is the key to manage maternal malnutrition.

“In pregnancy, mothers must know that the key to managing malnutrition is eating the right type of food and in an adequate quantity. Management of resources and also early planning can help pregnant women manage nutritional health as they would prepare their meals and market lists to accommodate the kinds of food their bodies need.”

“It doesn’t even have to be expensive fruits. Women working on a budget can spice up their diets with oranges, green vegetables, carrots, garden egg, avocado etc,” Dr Adewole said.

Dr Adewole also stated that every nutrient is required in the growth and wellbeing of the child and mother. He said it was important that pregnant women eat balanced meals instead of focusing on one and neglecting others.

According to Dr Adewole, the risk of mothers facing maternal malnutrition is high as their child or even the mother may suffer one complication or the other and in worst cases, death.

He said “Malnutrition could cause a lot of damage to the mother and the baby. If the woman is low on iron, there will be poor ability to pump blood and that will definitely affect the baby’s health. Low iron levels and folic acid can also cause the mother to feel very weak. Lack of Vitamin C can lead to the baby having scurvy or bleeding gums.”

Dr Adewole also emphasized that proper nutrition is not only for pregnant women but also for breastfeeding mothers who through their milk pass the right kind of nutrients to their child.

He explained that; “Breastfeeding mothers need to eat good food because if they are malnourished, they will be weak and won’t be able to feed. Most nutrients are taken from the mother for milk production; therefore, the mother has to eat well in order to have enough for both herself and the child.”


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