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Balancing Maternal Nutrition to Safeguard Pregnancy from Oxidative Stress.

By Julia Haimovich, Accredited Practicing Dietitian.

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Nutrition plays a critical role in child development during pregnancy, starting with maternal nutrition
and support. The proper nutrients and maternal care are essential for the health and development
of the foetus, affecting physical growth and cognitive and neurological development. This process
involves various physiological mechanisms and helps reduce oxidative stress. 1
Adequate nutrition provides essential nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and
minerals. These nutrients are required for the formation of the baby’s organs, tissues, and overall
growth. For example, proteins are crucial for developing the baby’s muscles, while calcium and
vitamin D support the development of bones. 2
The foetus’s brain and nervous system undergo significant development during pregnancy. Nutrients
like folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron are crucial for proper brain and neural tube development.
Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to neural tube defects and cognitive impairments. 2

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals (reactive oxygen species)
and antioxidants in the body. During pregnancy, the body is more susceptible to oxidative stress due
to increased metabolic demands. Adequate nutrition can help reduce oxidative stress by providing
antioxidants like vitamins C and E, selenium, and phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables.
These antioxidants help protect the developing foetus from damage caused by free radicals. 1
Proper nutrition during pregnancy helps in the development of the baby’s immune system. Nutrients
such as vitamins C, D, and zinc play a role in enhancing the immune response, which is essential for
protecting the baby from infections and illnesses. 2,3
Adequate nutrition can prevent the occurrence of birth defects. For instance, a deficiency in folic
acid can lead to neural tube defects, while insufficient iodine can result in congenital
hypothyroidism. A well-balanced diet with essential nutrients can reduce the risk of such birth
defects. 2,4
Proper nutrition during pregnancy can also help prevent gestational diabetes and hypertension.
These conditions can negatively impact foetal development and increase the risk of complications
during childbirth. A balanced diet and weight management are essential in reducing the risk of these
conditions. 5
Maternal nutrition directly influences the baby’s birth weight. Low birth weight can be a risk factor
for various health issues in infancy and later life. A well-nourished mother is more likely to have a
baby with a healthy birth weight, reducing the risk of health problems. 2
Nutritional inadequacies during pregnancy can have long-term consequences on the child’s health
and development. It can increase the risk of obesity, metabolic disorders, and chronic diseases later
in life. Proper nutrition during pregnancy can help set the stage for a healthier future for the child. 2,4
Maternal nutrition is crucial for child development during pregnancy. Proper nutrition provides the
essential building blocks for foetal growth, brain development, and immune system function while
reducing oxidative stress and the risk of birth defects and complications. It’s important for expectant
mothers to maintain a well-balanced diet and receive adequate prenatal care to ensure the optimal
health and development of their babies.

  1. Hussain T, Murtaza G, Metwally E, Kalhoro DH, Kalhoro MS, Rahu BA, Sahito RG, Yin Y,
    Yang H, Chughtai MI, Tan B. The role of oxidative stress and antioxidant balance in
    pregnancy. Mediators of Inflammation. 2021 Sep 27;2021:1-1.
  2. Thayer ZM, Rutherford J, Kuzawa CW. The maternal nutritional buffering model: An
    evolutionary framework for pregnancy nutritional intervention. Evolution, medicine, and public
    health. 2020;2020(1):14-27.
  3. Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and immune function. Nutrients. 2019 Aug
  4. Marshall, N.E., Abrams, B., Barbour, L.A., Catalano, P., Christian, P., Friedman, J.E., Hay Jr,
    W.W., Hernandez, T.L., Krebs, N.F., Oken, E. and Purnell, J.Q., 2022. The importance of
    nutrition in pregnancy and lactation: lifelong consequences. American journal of obstetrics
    and gynecology, 226(5), pp.607-632.
  5. Schoenaker DA, De Jersey S, Willcox J, Francois ME, Wilkinson S. Prevention of gestational
    diabetes: the role of dietary intake, physical activity, and weight before, during, and between
    pregnancies. InSeminars in reproductive medicine 2020 Nov (Vol. 38, No. 06, pp. 352-365).
    333 Seventh Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10001, USA: Thieme Medical Publishers,
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