Nutrition Women’s Health

Malnutrition in Black Pregnant Women

Written by Jessie Kimani

Optimal nutrition is essential during all stages of pregnancy. It improves fetal growth and childbirth outcomes. Unfortunately, malnutrition in Black pregnant women is a major public health concern. Many Black women struggle with maternal undernutrition during pregnancy because of individual and societal factors that limit access healthy foods. This increases their risk of poor maternal outcomes and serious fetal complications.

Malnutrition in Pregnant Black Women: The Scope of the Problem

Maternal nutrition plays an important role in mother-child mortality and morbidity. Nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy can have negative implications on the mother and the unborn child. While several evidence-based interventions exist to address this public health issue, there remain stark disparities in maternal health across races. Statistics indicate that on average Black women have poorer nutrition compared to other races while pregnant.

  • Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause compared to White women
  • More than half of Black women do not follow recommendations for healthy eating habits early in pregnancy
  • Only 31% of Black pregnant women consider themselves regular supplement users compared to 42% of white Americans
  • Diet quality is lowest among Black Pregnant women during the time leading to conception and across all trimesters
  • Pregnant Black women tend to have higher caloric diets with excessive fats, sugar, and carbohydrates but lack important nutrients like fiber and folate

Consequences of Malnutrition in Black Pregnant Women

Malnutrition in pregnancy is related to severe health consequences. Undernourished pregnant women are at a higher risk of obstructed labor, anemia, preeclampsia, and mortality compared to healthy women. Lack of proper nutrients during pregnancy also puts the pregnancy and unborn baby at risk. Possible consequences of nutrient deficiencies during pregnancy include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Birth defects
  • Neural tube defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Miscarriages

These early health challenges can have long-lasting negative impacts on both the mother and child. Therefore, proper nutrition should be a priority, and mothers empowered to make sure they get the nutrients they need.

Why Are Black Pregnant Women More Likely to Suffer from Malnutrition?

Food insecurity is a multifaceted phenomenon that can affect the life of a person from the embryonic stage. Unfortunately, Black women in many communities still find it difficult to get the recommended nutrient amounts during pregnancy. This is due to a combination of individual preferences, economic strata, and societal norms that shape maternal nutrition. While malnutrition may differ from one community to another, some of the key contributing factors include:

  1. Socioeconomic Disparities: Income inequality limits the ability of Black women to access proper diet. They tend to lack enough money to buy nutritious food and vitamin supplements. Some of them also lack the health insurance needed for prenatal care.
  2. Food Deserts: Many Black communities are located in food deserts with limited access to fresh, affordable food. This may be due to the distance to the grocery stores or constant fluctuations in food prices.
  3. Dietary Misconceptions and Cultural Factors: The Black communities’ cultural food traditions do not always align with optimal prenatal nutrition needs. For instance, pregnant women in some Black communities have food taboos from eating meat, egg, milk, some vegetables like cabbages, and fruits like mango for fear of violating sociocultural norms. Such misconceptions about prenatal nutrition often lead to unhealthy dietary choices.
  4. Gender Inequality: Black women of reproductive age tend to receive less food compared to their male counterparts in the same households. This can further impact their ability to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy.
  5. Systematic Racism and Bias in Healthcare: Discrimination and implicit bias are still rampant in the healthcare system. Many pregnant Black women still face the problem of inadequate nutritional counseling and support.

Black Women Pregnancy Nutrition Tips

Pregnant women need more of certain nutrients like folic acid, iron, protein, choline, and iodine. It is also important to get enough vitamin D, calcium, fiber, and potassium. By making smart food choices, you can have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Here are a few tips and food that will keep you nourished for the nine months:

  1. Folate: Folate/ folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects by 95%. Food sources include beans and legumes, dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, pork, poultry, citrus fruits and juices, and fish.
  2. Iron: Iron is crucial in the third trimester to support the 50% increase in blood volume. Sources include nuts and dark green vegetables.
  3. Calcium: Calcium is important during the second and third trimesters when the development of your baby’s bone and tooth peaks. Food sources include dark green vegetables, low-fat dairy products, soy products like tofu, and fortified plant milk products.
  4. Fiber: Fiber helps reduce or prevent constipation during pregnancy while lowering the risk of preeclampsia and diabetes.
  5. Take Prenatal Vitamins Every Day: Prenatal supplements boost your body’s intake of folic acid, iron, and other nutrients needed during pregnancy.
  6. Stay Hydrated: Drink enough water because most of the fluid leaks from your blood vessels into your tissues when you are pregnant.
  7. Eat a Rainbow of Foods: Follow a healthy eating routine with a mix of food from all categories including whole grains and fruits
  8. Get Your Omega3 Fatty Acids: An omega-3-rich diet boosts the baby’s brain and neurological development before birth. Food sources include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and omega-3-fortified eggs.
  9. Avoid Certain Foods: You may have known that alcohol is bad for pregnancy, but you also need to avoid raw meat, raw fish, and unpasteurized drinks.

Solutions for Malnutrition: Supporting Healthy Pregnancies in Black Communities

Malnutrition in pregnant Black women remains a critical public health issue. While evidence-based interventions are readily available, poor implementation of programs and limited updates of behavior change interventions make addressing malnutrition complex. However, the challenge can be resolved by taking a multifaced approach that focuses on individual and systematic change. Recommended courses of action include:

  • Community-Based Initiatives: Local Black communities can initiate programs that address food insecurity among pregnant women. This may also include providing nutritional education and increasing access to healthy food options
  • Improving Healthcare Equity: The healthcare system can implement culturally competent care training for medical professionals. This will play an important role in addressing implicit bias within the healthcare system by improving communication and trust between patients and providers
  • Policy Changes: Policy initiatives aimed at expanding access to affordable healthcare and addressing food deserts can help address the issue of malnutrition in the Black community. It is also important to advocate for policies that increase support for low-income mothers through programs like WIC
  • Other Interventions: Strengthen interpersonal countering, community mobilization, and provision of vitamin supplements

Eradicating malnutrition in Black pregnant women is both a health and social justice issue. By addressing the underlying factors and providing support and resources, society can create a future where every mother can experience a healthy pregnancy regardless of their race. Combined efforts in advocating for systemic change will further create a healthy system where all women can give to healthy babies. On a personal level, Black women have an important role in ensuring they are eating a healthy diet and keeping their nutrient levels high.

Further Reading

Working Together to Reduce Black Maternal Mortality.

Nutrition of Black Women During Pregnancy.

What to eat before, during and after pregnancy.

10 Nutrition Do’s and Don’ts During Pregnancy.

Nutritional Tips During Pregnancy.

How To Eat Well in Pregnancy.

CRN Experts Explain: Black Maternal Health Week.

PROTOCOL: Effects of nutritional interventions during pregnancy on birth, child health, and development outcomes: A systematic review of evidence from low- and middle-income Countries. Maternal food insecurity in low-income countries: Revisiting its causes and consequences for maternal and neonatal health.

March Health: Nutrition Awareness Month.

About the author

Jessie Kimani

Jess is a dedicated natural hair enthusiast, stylist, and writer. From tips on how to style your curls to product recommendations, she is your go-to source for all things natural hair care. She is passionate about helping women embrace their natural beauty; a firm believer that every woman should feel confident and beautiful in their natural hair.

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