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Facts for Life

Safe Motherhood

Supporting Information


The risks associated with childbearing for the mother and her baby can be greatly reduced if a woman is healthy and well nourished before becoming pregnant. During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, all women need more nutritious meals, increased quantities of food, more rest than usual, iron-folic acid or multiple micronutrient supplements, even if they are consuming fortified foods, and iodized salt to ensure the proper mental development of their babies.

Adolescent girls, women, pregnant women and new mothers need the best foods available: milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, grains, peas and beans. All of these foods are safe to eat during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Women will feel stronger and be healthier during pregnancy if they eat nutritious meals, consume greater quantities of nutritious food and get more rest than usual. Nutritious foods rich in iron, vitamin A and folic acid include meat, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and orange or yellow fruits and vegetables.

After childbirth, women also need nutritious meals and a greater quantity of food and rest. Breastfeeding mothers need about 500 extra calories per day, the equivalent of an additional meal.

During prenatal visits, a trained health worker can provide the pregnant woman with iron-folic acid or multiple micronutrient supplements to prevent or treat anaemia. Malaria or hookworm infection can be treated if needed. The health worker can also screen the pregnant woman for night blindness and, as necessary, prescribe an adequate dosage of vitamin A to treat the woman and contribute to the healthy development of the fetus.

If the pregnant woman thinks she has anaemia, malaria or hookworms, she should consult a trained health worker.

Salt consumed by families should be iodized. Iodine in a pregnant woman's and young child's diet is especially critical for the healthy development of the child's brain. Goitre, a swelling at the front of the neck, is a clear sign that the body is not getting enough iodine. A diet low in iodine is especially damaging during the early stages of pregnancy and in early childhood. Women who do not have enough iodine in their diet are more likely to have an infant who is mentally or physically disabled. Severe iodine deficiency can cause cretinism (stunted physical and mental growth), stillbirth, miscarriage and increased risk of infant mortality.