Mother’s low weight linked to smaller children in India

Mother and Baby

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India, being the world’s second-most populated and having one of the highest birth rates, pre-pregnancy body weight and weight gain during pregnancy are a major concern. However, such a huge country does not have a monitoring system for maternal health and basic facts about maternal nutrition are unknown, especially in the rural areas.

Statistics and data show that despite being wealthier, Indian children are significantly shorter and smaller than African children. Indian mothers are underweight prior to conception (BMI less than 18.5) and gain less weight during pregnancy. Hence, there is a deficit in maternal nutrition during pregnancy, and this deficit tends to affect the baby even after birth.

The latest publication in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined the link between mother’s weight and children’s height in Indian and sub-Saharan African mothers. According to the study, an alarming 42.2 % of pre-pregnant Indian women are underweight compared with only 16.5 % in the case of sub-Saharan African mothers.

“The most important reason why pre-pregnant women in India are more likely to be underweight than the average women is age. Indian women have children very soon after marriage, in a narrow age range between about 18 and 25. This is also the time in their lives that they are most likely to be underweight”, said Diane Coffey, a researcher at Princeton University and the author of the paper.

Besides age, those belonging to the socioeconomically disadvantaged stratum are more likely to be underweight prior to conception. But the problem is not confined to the socioeconomically disadvantaged population alone. Even in economically stable families, young women tend to have low social rank. As a result, they have less than adequate food. Besides food intake, diseases such as diarrhoea, which are common in India, play a critical role in determining the weight of mothers before pregnancy. Also, very high levels of air pollution in India play a critical role in reducing life expectancy for about half of the Indian population.

Weight gain during pregnancy serves two purposes. First, it is useful for the growth of the baby before birth. Second, it prepares the woman’s body to have enough fat stores to produce lots of high quality breast milk. Higher prevalence of low birth weight babies in India is also linked to mother’s low pre-pregnancy weight and less weight gain during pregnancy.

This article is based on materials provided by The Hindu

The original publication can be accessed here.

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