7 Serious Causes Of Malnutrition During Pregnancy

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The body’s nutritional demands escalate during pregnancy and lactation, making it vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Malnutrition during pregnancy may result in various maternal complications such as anemia, premature delivery, or postpartum hemorrhage. In addition, it may adversely affect the developing fetus, increasing the risk of low birth weight and infant mortality (1).

Therefore, a balanced diet is essential to ensure the safety and health of the mother and developing baby. Continue reading this post, where we explain the causes of malnutrition during pregnancy, how it can affect you and your baby, and how to prevent it.

What Is Malnutrition In Pregnancy?

Malnutrition is a serious condition that occurs when an individual’s diet contains insufficient nutrients that do not meet the requirements of her body. It can cause damage to the vital organs and can adversely affect the functioning of the body.

What Are The Causes Of Malnutrition?

Malnutrition during pregnancy may be a result of the following factors.

  1. Lack of availability of nutritious diet due to socio-economic conditions of the family.

    Poor socio-economic conditions may lead to malnutrition during pregnancy

    Image: Shutterstock

  2. Painful teeth or mouth conditions that may affect the ability to consume food.
  3. Following an unhealthy diet due to lack of knowledge or interest
  4. Loss of appetite due to other health conditions such as chronic infections, depression, etc.
  5. Use of certain medications that may interfere with nutrient absorption.
  6. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting may also cause malnutrition. Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is common..

    Nausea and vomiting may cause malnutrition during pregnancy

    Image: Shutterstock

  7. Inadequate intake of nutrients and calories that does not meet the increased demands of pregnancy (2).
Quick fact
Some expecting women with intestinal disorders such as ulcerative colitis or colon diseases may experience malnutrition as these conditions make it difficult for their bodies to absorb nutrition from their food (6).

Health Risks For The Mother

Women who are undernourished at the time of conception may also fail to meet the increased nutritional requirements during pregnancy. It can lead to insufficient weight gain during pregnancy and increase the mortality risk.

Deficiency of micronutrients during pregnancy could lead to the following:

  • Zinc and Magnesium deficiency could cause preeclampsia and preterm birth.

    Deficiency of zinc and magnesium can cause preeclampsia

    Image: Shutterstock

  • A lack of Iron and Vitamin B12 could cause anemia.
  • Inadequate intake of Vitamin B12 can also lead to neurological issues.
  • Vitamin K deficiency can lead to excessive bleeding during childbirth.
  • Inadequate Iodine intake during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.

Effects of malnutrition during pregnancy can be adverse.It can affect the mother’s health in the following ways:

  • It can lower immunity and lead to infections.
  • It can cause anemia and weakness.
  • It can lower productivity.
Did you know?
Clinical evidence shows that undernutrition before and during pregnancy can raise an individual’s risk of developing metabolic disorders such as gestational diabetes mellitus (7).

Health Risks For The Baby

According to a study, in utero malnutrition could adversely affect the growth of the baby in the early years. It can also increase his risk of suffering from obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic complications like liver disease, etc. (3).

Micronutrient deficiency during pregnancy could adversely affect the baby in the following ways (4):

  • Iodine deficiency can cause – congenital abnormalities, neurological cretinism, mental deficiency, spastic diplegia, myxoedematous cretinism, etc. It can also increase infant mortality risk.
  • Low Zinc levels can cause fetal growth retardation and congenital abnormalities.
  • A deficiency of folate can cause neural tube defects in the infant.

    Folate deficiency may cause neural tube defects in the baby

    Image: Shutterstock

  • Low iron levels in the mother’s body can cause fetal growth retardation

An unbalanced diet during pregnancy could take a toll on the newborn’s health in the following ways (4):

  • It can lead to stillbirth.
  • It can cause a premature birth.
  • It can increase newborn mortality risk.
  • It can lead to neurological, respiratory, intestinal and circulatory complications in the infant.

Maternal under-nutrition can make a child prone to the following health complications, in the long run (4):

  • Renal dysfunction.
  • He may face cardiovascular issues like – hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, and coronary heart disease.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Breast Cancer.
  • Organ dysfunction of testes, ovaries, brain, heart, liver, and small intestine, etc.

Maternal malnutrition can also negatively affect mental development and school performance of a child.


A balanced diet can help prevent malnutrition during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

Having a balanced diet can help you enjoy a safe pregnancy. Consume a lot of fruits and vegetables to gain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Include healthy protein sources like fish, eggs, pulses, beans, and poultry in your diet. Also, add starchy foods like cornmeal, pasta, noodles, bread, and potatoes to meet your increased carbohydrate requirement (5).

Pregnancy increases the nutritional demands of the body to support fetal growth. Excess vomiting, underlying conditions affecting eating and digestion, or socio-economic factors may be responsible for malnutrition during pregnancy. Consuming excess junk food may also lead to malnutrition, if it takes the place of nutrient-dense food. Congenital abnormalities such as neural tube defects, growth retardation, premature birth, and miscarriage may be attributed to specific nutritional deficiencies caused by malnutrition. Most of the issues may be prevented with dietary and lifestyle changes. However, you should consult a doctor to identify the required nutrients and supplements to avoid deficiencies.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Impact of Malnutrition.
  2. Causes of Malnutrition.
  3. Malnutrition during pregnancy may affect the health of future generations.
  4. Alison D. Gernand et al.; (2016); Micronutrient deficiencies in pregnancy worldwide: health effects and prevention.
  5. Have a healthy diet in pregnancy.
  6. Ebele Philomina Meniru, et al.; Malnutrition in Pregnancy: Causes and Prevention.
  7. Undernutrition during Pregnancy

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