Pregnancy is an exciting time for most women, but problems such as malnutrition can make it a harrowing experience. Malnutrition can lead to life-threatening problems such as stunted growth, heart diseases, and diabetes. As a pregnant woman, you must get enough essential nutrients to ensure the baby’s healthy development. It is also significant to note that malnutrition is a condition that can affect billions of people. Women acquire distinct nutritional requirements throughout, before and after pregnancy to accommodate their survival and their babies.

Before pregnancy, the woman’s body must adequately store the nutrients needed to carry out a healthy term until the delivery. Furthermore, during the life stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding, the need for ample energy and nutrients gradually increase to provide for the baby. Unfortunately, the health status of women in many parts of the world is below average. As a result, such women are nutritionally at risk and don’t get the chance to provide the best of circumstances for their babies so that they can develop, grow and live a healthy life.

Though malnutrition can occur in adults to children, in this article, we will focus on how it affects a pregnancy overall. We will look at the causes, health risks, prevention and its effects on the baby as well.

Types of Malnutrition

Generally, malnutrition means a deficiency or overconsumption of certain nutrients or vitamins in the human body. However, before we take a closer look at the causes and all, it is best to understand the types of malnutrition and how they differ. The first type of malnutrition is undernutrition. This is where the affected person doesn’t get enough micronutrients, proteins, calories, etc. It often results in a short height and being underweight. The second type of malnutrition is overnutrition. This is where the affected person intakes certain nutrients such as proteins, calories, etc. This type of malnutrition results in being obese and overweight.

Undernourished people tend to have iron, vitamin A, and zinc deficiencies. It is also highly possible that people could be overweight due to the high intake of sugary foods rich in calories but lower in nutrients.

Causes of Malnutrition in Pregnancy

There are a bunch of factors that cause malnutrition during pregnancy. 

The number one reason for such is the socio-economic status of the family. For example, women in Africa suffer from poor health status, chronic energy deficiency, and inadequate weight gain during pregnancy. They don’t have access to proper food and nutrients essential for the baby’s growth.

At times women are ignorant and don’t know much about what types of nutrients they must have or happen to follow an unhealthy diet, which eventually leads to an imbalanced diet that can harm that baby.  Conditions of the mouth, having bleeding gums that hurt, or painful teeth that prevent one from eating, also contribute to inviting malnutrition during that time. In addition, suffering from illness or any infection such as diarrhoea and vomiting can lead to inadequate nutrition. 

Mental conditions such as depression can also prevent pregnant women from eating the food their body needs. This can further cause a loss in appetite and even affect the digestive system. Certain medications can halt the absorption process of the nutrients in the body, therefore leading to malnourishment.

Apart from all the other factors stated, one of the classical signs experienced during pregnancy, i.e. morning sickness, can be severe. Such intensified levels of morning sickness can interfere with the woman’s ability to eat properly throughout the day.

Health Risks of Malnutrition in Pregnancy

There are health risks for both the mother and baby if the mother is malnourished during the pregnancy term. Hence, these women are most likely to fall sick while carrying their babies. They are also subjected to higher risks of having a miscarriage or premature birth. Lack of Vitamin B12 and Iron can potentially cause anaemia. Similarly, a lack of Vitamin B12 can also lead to neurological issues. A heightened decrease in Vitamin K can prove to be quite a hassle as women with the deficiency are most likely to experience heavy blood loss during childbirth. 

Women who are malnourished and have such health risks are overall weak and have lower productivity throughout the term. Moreover, babies born malnourished go through some significant health problems that are either temporary or, in rare cases, long-term. Babies that are born malnourished are most likely to be stillborn and die in the womb. There are other defects that the baby could be born with, such as poor vision, weak muscles, poor growth, brain damage, and attacks from germs such as bacteria. Their ability to walk and control their bladder and bowel movements are affected. 

Apart from that, malnourished babies can be born with underdeveloped organs due to lacking the needed nutrients. Deficiency in vitamins such as Vitamin D can lead to rickets in the baby, and low zinc levels can cause foetal growth.

The long term effects of malnutrition are diseases such as diabetes mellitus, lower IQ levels, and cardiovascular diseases.  

How To Prevent Malnutrition During Pregnancy?

One can prevent malnutrition in many ways; however, the best is to maintain a healthy balanced diet before, during and after the pregnancy. A balanced diet should include fruits, vegetables, meat, water, carbohydrates, proteins, fats and dietary fibre. 

All pregnant women should consult their doctor to come up with a plan to eat healthy food that is safe and suits both the mother and the baby. Ask your healthcare professional about which vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you should take to ensure a normal pregnancy.


Going through or experiencing malnutrition during pregnancy is common for women who don’t happen to eat healthily, are ignorant about their diets, and don’t seem to care for the little one growing. If you happen to be a pregnant woman who’s concerned about your baby, then you must consult a doctor, a nutritionist or a healthcare professional to help you come up with a diet plan that suits you and your baby. Being aware of what you can eat and what will not harm the baby or you are equally important to have a safe and sound pregnancy. It is also quite imperative to note that women must maintain a good health status before, during and after pregnancy to avoid being affected by problems and issues such as malnutrition, as it affects almost billions of people throughout the globe. 

Lastly, if you have any problems preventing you from eating healthy food, you must reach out to a professional to undergo proper guidance.