On November 17, the world celebrated World Prematurity Day which is set aside to raise awareness on pre-term births.
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Premature births are those that take place before the 37th week of pregnancy and approximately 15 million cases are reported worldwide annually.
About one million babies die before they turn one due to complications associated with pre-term births.
Many of those who survive face severe health problems often associated with cognitive, visual and hearing disabilities. Kenya has among the highest incidents of premature births, reporting 188,000 cases every year.
Such births can be triggered by poor maternal nutrition; the nutrition status of a mother before conception and during pregnancy can affect foetal growth and development.
In some cases, a woman who is undernourished at conception may not improve her nutritional status during pregnancy owing the additional demands placed on the body the growing baby.
Undernourishment also reduces the body’s ability to fight infections as its lacks nutrients needed to support the growth of the foetus.
During the pre-implantation stage — within the first few days of implantation — there is rapid cell division and replication in the embryo.
Poor maternal nutrition can adversely affect cell division impairing the development of the embryo and the foetus in the later stages.
Overweight and obesity is associated with many pregnancy complications including miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and pre-term births.
Even with treatment, complications like preeclampsia may trigger a pre-term birth.
Micro-nutrient deficiencies, which occur mainly due to a poor diet, may compromise infant development.
Iron deficiency is the most common form of micro-nutrient deficiency among pregnant women.
According to the Kenya’s micro nutrient survey of 1999, about 55 per cent of pregnant women suffer iron deficiency increasing the risk of maternal morbidity and mortality. A healthy diet is especially vital during pregnancy or when one is trying to conceive. During this period, a variety of foods from different food groups should be consumed.
The extra caloric requirements can be achieved through eating healthy snacks in between main meals without necessarily over eating.
Maintaining a healthy weight is imperative in prevention of weight-related pregnancy complications.
Healthy dietary practices and regular physical activity are key to weight maintenance.
Exercises should not stop when one conceives and must be part of the daily routine even for pregnant women with no complications.
These workouts help maintain a healthy weight, promote physical and mental well-being and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes that can trigger pre-term births.