The rapid pace of fetal development by far exceeds any other stage of the life span, and thus, environmental influences can profoundly alter the developmental course. Stress during the prenatal period, including malnutrition and inflammation, impact maternal and fetal neurodevelopment with long-term consequences for physical and mental health of both the mother and her child. One primary consequence of maternal malnutrition, inflammation, and other sources of prenatal stress is a poor birth outcome, such as prematurity or growth restriction. These phenotypes are often used as indications of prenatal adversity. In fact, the original evidence supporting the fetal programming hypothesis came from studies documenting an association between birth phenotype and the development of subsequent physical and mental health problems. Fetal growth restriction in both term and preterm infants is associated with neonatal morbidities and a wide variety of behavioral and psychological diagnoses in childhood and adolescence, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, internalizing and thought problems, poor social skills, and autism spectrum disorder. Improving maternal-child health requires interventions that begin before pregnancy and continue throughout gestation and into the postpartum period. Such interventions might include supporting pregnancy intention, maternal nutrition, health/medical care, mental health, and providing social support. This article discusses the impact of maternal nutrition and inflammation during preconception and pregnancy among women living in low-resource settings, with an emphasis on key knowledge gaps that need to be addressed to guide program and policy decisions at local, regional and global levels.
Copyright © 2017 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.