Proper maternal nutrition during pregnancy goes a long way in determining the health, nutrition status and quality of life of a child. This includes preventing birth defects that cause physical and mental disability.
An example of a birth defect that is commonly experienced is congenital heart disease, brought about by deficiency of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) and B3(Niacin) during pregnancy. This is especially worse if the mother eats a diet that is high in saturated fat.
These two vitamins are responsible for conversion and proper use of the energy we get from food. A diet rich in dairy, whole grains, liver, fish, nuts and leafy greens plus a multivitamin supplement during pregnancy will help prevent these deficiencies.
Smoking during pregnancy increases chances of a baby being born with a cleft lip or cleft palate or both. Quitting smoking before pregnancy or even as soon as one discovers they are pregnant is therefore recommended to decrease chances of this birth defect.
Another birth defect is where an infant's abdominal wall has a tear, referred to as Gastroschisis. It can be caused by inadequate protein and zinc intake in a pregnant woman's diet. Also, women with low body mass index, before pregnancy, are also at risk of giving birth to babies with this defect.
Another defect, intrauterine growth retardation, is caused by inadequate nutrition and lack of essential nutrients like iodine. Expectant mothers who do not have these nutrients end up giving birth to babies that are smaller than normal which affects their lifelong nutrition and health status. This also predisposes them to physical and learning disabilities.
Obesity in pregnancy, and before, can also increase the risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects of the brain and heart. On the other hand, being underweight also increases the chances of poor birth outcomes including low birth weight and preterm babies.