Background: The growing appreciation of the multi-faceted importance of optimal maternal nutrition to the health and development of the infant and young child is tempered by incompletely resolved strategies for combatting challenges.
Objective: To review the importance of maternal nutrition and strategies being employed to optimize outcomes.
Methods: Selected data from recent literature with special focus on rationale for and currently published results of maternal nutrition supplements, including lipid based nutrition supplements.
Results: 1) An impelling rationale for improving the maternal and in utero environment of low resource populations has emerged to achieve improved fetal and post-natal growth and development. 2) Based partly on population increases in adult height over one-two generations, much can be achieved by reducing poverty. 3) Maternal, newborn and infant characteristics associated with low resource environments include evidence of undernutrition, manifested by underweight and impaired linear growth. 4) Apart from broad public health and educational initiatives, to date, most specific efforts to improve fetal growth and development have included maternal nutrition interventions during gestation. 5) The relatively limited but real benefits of both iron/folic acid (IFA) and multiple micronutrient (MMN) maternal supplements during gestation have now been reasonably defined. 6) Recent investigations of a maternal lipid-based primarily micronutrient supplement (LNS) have not demonstrated a consistent benefit beyond MMN alone. 7) However, effects of both MMN and LNS appear to be enhanced by commencing early in gestation.
Conclusions: Poor maternal nutritional status is one of a very few specific factors in the human that not only contributes to impaired fetal and early post-natal growth but for which maternal interventions have demonstrated improved in utero development, documented primarily by both improvements in low birth weights and by partial corrections of impaired birth length. A clearer definition of the benefits achievable by interventions specifically focused on correcting maternal nutrition deficits should not be limited to improvements in the quality of maternal nutrition supplements, but on the cumulative quantity and timing of interventions (also recognizing the heterogeneity between populations). Finally, in an ideal world these steps are only a prelude to improvements in the total environment in which optimal nutrition and other health determinants can be achieved.
Keywords: Maternal; Multiple micronutrients; Nutrition; Pregnancy outcomes; Small-quantity lipid-based nutrition supplements.