Maternal nutrition is a fundamental predictor of a baby’s birth weight. Undernourished mothers usually give birth to low-weight children. Attempts to improve mothers’ nutritional status during pregnancy have been unsuccessful.
Vietnamese researchers carried out an ambitious study titled “Effect of Animal-Source Food Supplement Prior to and During Pregnancy on Birthweight and Prematurity in Rural Vietnam: A Brief Study Description,” which was first published in December 2014 by the Food and Nutrition Bulletin. In the study, the researchers gave rural Vietnamese women a nutrient-rich, animal-source food supplement prior to and during pregnancy to evaluate its effects on birth weight, the rate of prematurity, and infant growth.
The researchers believed that supplementing the mother’s usual diet with a small but nutritious piece of meat from preconception to term or from mid-gestation to term would improve the baby’s birth weight and prevent preterm deliveries. They also believed that supplementation would increase the baby’s growth during the first year of life.
How Was the Study Conducted?
The researchers recruited 451 young women from the Cam Khe District of Phu Tho Province, Vietnam, when the women registered to marry.
The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group received an animal-source food supplement that contained iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12, folate, and zinc. They took the supplement five days a week from marriage to delivery. The second group took the animal-source food supplement five days a week from the sixteenth week of gestation to term. The third group received routine prenatal care without supplementation.
The mothers who received supplementation were provided with ten rotating small meals that included animal-source supplements of pork, shrimp, liver, blood, or duck eggs. The researchers collected data on infant growth variables, maternal nutrients status, maternal or infant anemia, and maternal or infant infections.
The Preliminary Results
The results are preliminary because some data is still being collected. But the results so far are significant. At least 40 percent of the women who did not receive supplements were underweight and anemic; 50 percent had infections, and about 10 percent have had babies with low birth weight.
Although there has been a huge improvement in birth weight among children in the urban regions of Vietnam, the problem remains prevalent in rural areas, where there are still high rates of prematurity and postnatal complications. Vietnamese pregnant women need access to better food, regardless of local customs or beliefs.
This food-based approach may have global implications, affecting how and when to initiate public health interventions to improve maternal and infant health.
Tu, Ngu, Janet C. King, Henri Dirren, Nga Hoang Thu, Quyen Phi Ngoc, and Anh Nguyen Thi Diep. “Effect of Animal-Source Food Supplement Prior to and During Pregnancy on Birthweight and Prematurity in Rural Vietnam: A Brief Study Description.” Food and Nutrition Bulletin 35, no. 4 (2014): S205–S208. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com