Addressing barriers to maternal nutrition in low- and middle-income countries: A review of the evidence and programme implications

Matern Child Nutr. 2018 Jan;14(1):e12508. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12508. Epub 2017 Aug 24.


Adequate maternal nutrition during the "first 1,000 days" window is critical from conception through the first 6 months of life to improve nutritional status and reduce the risk of poor birth outcomes, such as low birthweight and preterm birth. Unfortunately, many programmes have targeted implementation and monitoring of nutrition interventions to infants and young children, rather than to women during pregnancy or post-partum. A literature review was conducted to identify barriers to food choice and consumption during pregnancy and lactation and to examine how low- and middle-income countries have addressed maternal nutrition in programmes. A literature review of peer-reviewed and grey literature was conducted, and titles and abstracts reviewed by authors. Twenty-three studies were included in this review. Barriers to adequate nutrition during pregnancy included cultural beliefs related to knowledge of quantity of food to eat during pregnancy, amount of weight to gain during pregnancy, and "eating down" during pregnancy for fear of delivering a large baby. Foods considered inappropriate for consumption during pregnancy or lactation contributed to food restriction. Drivers of food choice were influenced by food aversions, economic constraints, and household food availability. Counselling on maternal diet and weight gain during pregnancy was seldom carried out. Programming to support healthy maternal diet and gestational weight gain during pregnancy is scant. Tailored, culturally resonant nutrition education and counselling on diet during pregnancy and lactation and weight gain during pregnancy, as well as monitoring of progress in maternal nutrition, are areas of needed attention.

Keywords: cultural barriers; food choice; lactation; maternal nutrition; pregnancy; weight gain during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Developing Countries
  • Diet, Healthy* / ethnology
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / ethnology
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / prevention & control
  • Food Preferences / ethnology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice* / ethnology
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / ethnology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation / ethnology
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / ethnology
  • Malnutrition / prevention & control
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena* / ethnology
  • Nutritional Status* / ethnology
  • Patient Compliance* / ethnology
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / ethnology
  • Premature Birth / prevention & control
  • Weight Gain / ethnology