Background: Although the term "maternal depletion syndrome" has been commonly used to explain poor maternal and infant health, whether such a syndrome actually exists remains unclear. This uncertainty may be due to the lack of a clear definition of the syndrome and the absence of theoretical frameworks that account for the many factors related to reproductive nutrition.
Methods: We propose a new definition of maternal depletion syndrome within a framework that accounts for potential confounding factors.
Results: Our conceptual framework distinguishes between childbearing pattern and inadequate diet as causes of poor maternal health; hence, our definition of maternal depletion syndrome has both biological and practical meaning. The new definition is based on overall change in maternal nutritional status over one reproductive cycle in relation to possible depletion and repletion phases and in relation to initial nutritional status.
Conclusions: The empirical application of this approach should permit the testing of the existence of maternal depletion syndrome in the developing world, and the distinction between populations where family planning will alleviate maternal depletion and those in which an improved diet is also necessary.