Part 1: Summary
Particularly in terms of dietary guidelines, women who are pregnant or lactating have unique needs compared to the general population. Proper nutrition among newborns is key to adequate development throughout life. The association between low birth weight and improper maternal nutrition exemplifies the importance of nutrition during pregnancy (1). Low birth weight infants have an increased risk of contracting chronic diseases later in life.
Nutrient requirements change during pregnancy in order to accommodate a range of bodily changes to support the fetus. If possible, women should calculate their body mass index (BMI) to evaluate if they are at a healthy weight for their height.
Individual can determine whether they are underweight, normal, or overweight based on the following ranges:
Underweight: < 18.5 (More food may be required for a well balanced diet)
Normal: 18.5 – 24.9 (The right quantity of food is consumed, but a healthy balance should be maintained)
Overweight: 25 – 29.9 (Food consumption should be limited while physical activity should be increased to benefit health)
Obese: > 30 (Important to lose weight to improve health outcomes)
Women of normal BMI before pregnancy should gain at least 6.8 kilograms during pregnancy, but no more than 11.4 kilograms. However, BMI is not an ultimate measure of healthy weight; factors like muscle concentration affect the validity of the measure. Please see the South African Health Department’s Newborn Care Chart to learn about routine care for infants at birth.
After birth, the infant should have exclusive breast-feeding for 6 months, according to the WHO and consistent evidence. Before 6 months, there is no evidence of solid foods having any benefit. Until at least 24 months, mothers should engage in responsive feeding, which consists of mothers following hunger cues with an immediate response. Mothers should also terminate feeding after the child communicates feelings of satiety. Essentially, women should work to feed their children slowly and without force, when responding to hunger cues. (2)
Following 6 months of exclusive breast-feeding, infants should be introduced to complementary foods. Some mothers add maize-rich foods to their infants’ diets, which increase energy intake, but not micronutrient intake. At this young age, sufficient micronutrient consumption is very important. Until 24 months, infants are in a critical window that influences dietary habits throughout life. (3)
The following guidelines should be followed when choosing complementary foods (3):
Quantities of food given should be small, but frequent
Gradually increase the amount and thickness of food
Include protein sources, including meat, chicken, fish, and eggs
Feed a variety of vegetables, including dark-green and orange colored
Drinks including tea, coffee, and sugary beverages should be avoided
If possible, give fortified complementary foods or mineral supplements for micronutrient needs
Part 2: Application to Greenhouses
Greenhouses can enhance nutritional outcomes for pregnant women and newborns. The healthy variety of food that a greenhouse can help produce can greatly aid these nutritional goals. Particularly if located near a maternal and infant health clinic, or a women’s cooperative, greenhouses have the potential to alter the availability of nutritionally rich food for mothers.