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Maternal Diet and the Effect on the Baby

Jordyn Yeater and Courtney Zeigler

While pregnant, diet should be one of the mother's top priorities. A
healthy diet and good nutrition ensure that the baby gets the
healthiest start possible. The best kind of diet needs to be balanced,
in that it contains adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and
healthy types of fat, as well as vitamins and minerals. The nutritional
state of the mother before pregnancy can affect the embryo and its
development.6 Women who are on vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free
diets are at a higher risk for nutrient deficiencies, which in turn
could cause problems for their babies. Vitamin B12 only comes from
animal-derived proteins, making it extremely difficult for vegetarian/
vegan mothers to meet their needs. 9 Meeting all nutritional needs
is essential for the growth and development of a healthy baby.

Deficiencies & their Risks

Calcium - Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia
Folate Can help prevent any neural tube defects
Iron Helps prevent low-birth weight & preterm delivery
Protein Inadequate consumption can result in gastroschsis
Vitamin B12 Resulting in neural tube defects, CDH, false positives
when screening for Down Syndrome 7
Vitamin D - The baby's bones can become soft, possibly causing
Zinc This could result in gastroschisis & delayed fetal growth

Qualtrics Survey Results:

Out of the 28 women surveyed, 22% of the pregnant women were
Gluten-Free, 33% were Vegetarians, and 44% were Vegan. Out of
those surveyed, 61% were concerned about nutrient deficiencies
due to their restricted diet. We found out that 56% of the women
were clinically deficient in Iron, 44% were deficient in vitamin B12,
and 33% were deficient in Folate and Calcium, among others.

Mother's who are have undiagnosed celiac disease tend to have a
higher risk of miscarriages and low-birth weight babies.1 Women
with celiac disease aged 15-20 had a 60% reduced fertility rate,
but increased by 40% once they reached ages 35-40. Women with
celiac disease also had a 30% higher chance of giving birth via
cesarean section. Rates of preeclampsia, postpartum
hemorrhage, and ectopic pregnancy were also increased, but only
Low Zinc levels could effect fetal development, such as impaired
growth, delayed sexual and bone maturation, and impaired
immunity.2 If a mother is experiencing a deficiency, it can lead to
the fetus having low stores of that nutrient, as well. The resulting
breast milk of the mother will also have low stores of that nutrient,
passing through to the infant.9
Women on a vegan diet are at a higher risk for iron and B12
deficiencies.4 These deficiencies are found to be a risk factor for
lower birth weights and preterm deliveries. 8
Women who choose to be vegetarian or vegan and are not forced
to follow the diet due to poverty, tend to have a pregnancy
outcome similar to that of an omnivore.4
It is shown that majority of iron transfer from the mother to the
fetus occurs after the 30th week of gestation, making it extremely
important to ensure that the mothers iron stores are sufficient at
that time.8

The consequences of poor maternal nutrition not only occur
before conception, but extend until after birth.6 The
nutritional state of the mother before pregnancy is important
because it can impact the ability of the mother to become
pregnant, and can also effect the health of the growing fetus.

Different types of restricted diets all have various effects

on the nutritional status of the mother, which then passes
through to the fetus.7
A womans risk of becoming anemic is highest during
pregnancy, making it essential to provide education on
proper sources of iron while on a vegan/vegetarian diet.8
If nutrient needs are not being met, it is important that
the patient is aware of available supplements that can be
taken if necessary.10 Health needs to be carefully
monitored while taking a supplement, as an excessive
amount can cause other complications for maternal
Even a slight deficiency in these essential nutrients can have
an effect on the health of the growing fetus. To promote the
growth and development of the fetus, a healthy, balanced
diet that meets all nutrient requirements is key.

Clinical Applications:
Registered dietitians play a key role in implementing new
diets into a client's lifestyle, in both inpatient and outpatient
healthcare settings.
Ensure that patients with Celiac Disease are diagnosed
correctly before attempting to get pregnant.1
Educate patients on a healthful diet so they do not feel the
need to avoid eating due to anxiety of complications 5
Provide sufficient information on healthy supplements or
provide an appropriate diet for women to follow in each life
cycle stage. 2
Educate patients on proper food sources to support all of
their nutritional needs.
Ensure that nutrient restriction is being avoided whenever
possible, as it can retard the growth of the fetus and
reduce the birthweight.6