Definition and Overview
A pregnancy nutrition checkup is an appointment between an obstetrician or prenatal specialist and an expectant mother. The checkup’s goal is to ensure that both the mother and the baby receive the complete nutrition they need to protect them against possible risks and complications associated with poor nutrition during pregnancy.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A pregnancy nutrition checkup is beneficial for all pregnant women particularly for those who have special nutritional needs. Since they share the nutrition they receive with the fetus they are nursing in their womb, expectant mothers need to have more than the normal amount of macronutrients, such as calories and protein, and micronutrients, especially calcium, folate, and iron – all three of which play an important role in the development of the fetus. The pregnant woman’s nutritional intake should be able to sustain both her needs and the baby’s.
In addition, some women also suffer from nutritional deficiencies or medical conditions that require them to pay special attention to their nutrition during this crucial time. These include women who are under-nourished even prior to the pregnancy, suffering from chronic medical conditions, and carrying twins or triplets.
The goals of a pregnancy nutrition checkup are:
- To evaluate the mother’s nutritional intake
- To detect nutritional deficiencies, such as iron or folate deficiency, and prescribe supplements, if necessary
- To monitor and maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- To determine whether there should be diet restrictions, such as eating less oily or salty foods
At the end of the checkup, the expectant mother should be aware of how to properly obtain the nutrition both she and her fetus need, and should be given prescriptions for nutritional supplements, if necessary.
How the Procedure Works
A pregnancy nutrition checkup takes place at the office or clinic of a pre-natal specialist and normally lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. During the checkup, the doctor will check the patient’s medical history, pregnancy record, and family history of illnesses. If it is not the first pregnancy for the patient, the doctor will ask for some background information regarding her previous pregnancies. The doctor will also ask about any habits the patient may have, such as smoking or drinking alcohol, as this can pose harmful effects to the unborn fetus.
The checkup also involves:
- Weight monitoring
- A physical examination
- Laboratory tests
If follow-up visits are required by the doctor, the weight of the patient will be taken during each visit to track her weight gain and compare it with the safe and average weight gain that is considered normal during pregnancy.
In general, the additional weight a woman puts in during pregnancy is made up of:
- Fetus – 8 pounds
- Amniotic fluid – 2-3 pounds
- Breast growth – 2-3 pounds
- Uterus enlargement – 2-5 pounds
- Placenta – 2-3 pounds
- Increased blood supply – 4 pounds
- Fats (converted into energy for childbirth and breastfeeding) – 5-9 pounds
This places the normal weight gain at about 25 to 35 pounds for the entire pregnancy. If a woman is underweight, she can gain 28 to 40 pounds, but if she is overweight, she will only need around 15 to 25 additional pounds. However, if she is expecting twins, the normal weight gain is around 35 to 45 pounds. If the weight gain is too slow or too fast, the doctor will recommend some changes in her diet.
Possible Risks and Complications
Poor nutrition during pregnancy is associated with several health risks affecting both mother and child. These include:
Excessive weight gain – It is normal for women to gain weight during pregnancy because of the amniotic fluid, the baby’s weight, and the extra nutrients the mother takes in during those nine months. However, one common complication pregnant women experience is excessive weight gain due to the intake of empty calories, such as those found in sugary, starchy, and fried foods.
Malnourishment – Malnutrition during pregnancy puts both the mother and the baby at risk of the following complications:
- Higher risk of maternal mortality
- Pre-term birth
- Impaired embryo development
- Low birth weight
- Restricted fetal growth – This is associated with an insufficient supply of iron in the mother’s body during pregnancy.
- Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida– This is linked to low levels of folate during the early stages of pregnancy.
- Restricted skeletal development – This is associated with calcium deficiency during pregnancy.
Susceptibility to chronic health conditions later on in life – Nutritional deficiencies can increase the child’s risk of developing chronic diseases. For example, if a mother does not receive enough nutrition, the fetus’ body may become programmed to produce an insufficient amount of glucose and insulin, which may lead to diabetes. Studies show that malnutrition during the first trimester is linked to coronary heart disease while malnutrition during the latter stages of pregnancy is linked to metabolic problems.
Cunningham FG, Leveno KJ, Bloom SL, et al. Preconceptional counseling. In: Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 24th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014:chap 8.
Cunningham FG, Leveno KJ, Bloom SL, et al. Prenatal care. In: Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 24th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014:chap 9.