Father holding premature baby to his chest.

What happens if you have poor nutrition during pregnancy?

While pregnant, nutrition is key to a baby’s healthy development and a mother’s safety. In the blur of planning for your baby’s arrival, we recommend you plan to make good nutrition a priority. Your and your baby’s lives count on it.

Poor nutrition during pregnancy can have negative consequences for both the developing baby and the mother, putting both baby and mom at risk for complications during pregnancy, during childbirth, and even resulting in significant long-term health problems. Here are just a few problems a baby can experience due to poor nutrition:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth (which can cause vision and hearing impairment, and breathing problems)
  • Increased risk of birth defects (often directly tied to low levels of folate in the mother’s diet before getting pregnant and while pregnant)
  • Delayed development
  • Poor immune function
  • Cognitive and behavioral problems later in life

Pregnancy is so “normal” that it’s easy to forget that pregnant women are at risk, as their bodies are going through extreme hormonal and physical changes. When a pregnant woman doesn’t receive adequate nutrition, she is at risk for many health problems including:

  • Anemia: Iron-deficiency anemia puts your developing baby at risk for a low birth weight and/or premature birth. Likewise, women are at a higher risk for postpartum depression with iron-deficiency anemia.
  • High blood pressure: This can cause many problems including less blood flow to the placenta, which can lead to slower growth and the fetus not receiving necessary nutrients. Other problems include putting the mom at risk for future cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a healthy weight and managing weight gain during pregnancy can help. Likewise, working to have a more plant-forward diet can keep blood pressure in check.
  • Gestational diabetes: Gestational diabetes puts a baby at risk for premature birth and or a high birth weight (which both put mom at risk). Also, a baby and mom can be more prone to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. 
  • Preeclampsia: Women with preeclampsia are at increased risk for damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, and other organ and blood systems. Preeclampsia may also affect the placenta.
  • Increased risk of infections: Pregnant women experience changes in immunity, which leaves them at risk for respiratory and viral infections, vaginitis, urinary tract infections, and postpartum infections. Good nutrition and hydration can help you keep your immune system strong and decrease the chance of infections. 
  • Difficulty during labor and delivery

It’s important to note that most of the time, these health problems can be managed, even avoided, with the right nutrition care and diet plan. Affordable nutrition care and access to a pregnancy dietitian are critical during pregnancy to help develop sustainable habits that can last a lifetime. Here are five affordable tips to improve nutrition during pregnancy:

  1. Eat a variety of foods: Aim to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to ensure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients. The more colorful, the better. Plates piled with purples, oranges, greens etc. provide more balance. 
  2. Choose nutrient-dense foods: Choose foods that are high in nutrients but low in calories, such as leafy greens, berries, and lean proteins. Ensure you get your folate, iron, and calcium to promote the healthy development of the fetus. 
  3. Limit processed foods: Processed foods tend to be high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. Try a variety of healthy, inexpensive snack options to meet your cravings. 
  4. Take prenatal vitamins: Prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated to provide the nutrients needed during pregnancy, such as folic acid and iron.
  5. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is important during pregnancy. This should be your go-to beverage. Luckily, it’s inexpensive. Keep a jar of water in the fridge with lemon and orange slices. Set a timer to remind you to drink water. Water helps maintain the volume of blood and amniotic fluid, and can help prevent constipation and urinary tract infections. Aim for at least eight glasses of water per day.

It’s never too late to consult with a pregnancy dietitian to improve your nutrition status during pregnancy, whether you’re in your first trimester or almost ready to have your baby. The human body is a miraculous, resilient thing, and by implementing healthy nutrition choices and adopting eating behaviors that support a healthy pregnancy, you’re giving your baby a headstart to a healthy life.