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Focus on maternal nutrition to improve neonatal outcomes says health experts

Posted:  Friday, October 09, 2015

It is pretty simple, healthy mothers deliver healthy children to power a nation! So how does India’s future generation fare? Pretty badly, as it is evident from the high neonatal mortality rate of 70%; a symptom for poor maternal health. Health experts suggest improving maternal pre-pregnancy weight, providing optimum maternal nutrition, and fostering gender and social equality for females as a solution.

Why is maternal health in India a matter of concern? These figures explain why:

Maternal underweight status

Almost 42.2% of young mothers record a body mass index (BMI) less than 18.5 at the beginning of pregnancy. This is extremely high even when compared to the poorer and less developed regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa (16%).

Not only do Indian mothers begin pregnancy being underweight, they don’t compensate for it even during pregnancy. According to records, Indian women only gain 7 kgs in pregnancy which is nearly half of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations.

Weight gain in pregnancy also happens to be one of the least researched aspects in India.

Social factors

Indian women live in a patriarchal society evident by the inequal distribution of underweight among men and women (40% in women versus 25% in men).

India shows a wide variation in gender inequality with the South of India outperforming the North.

Women also have to deal with intra-household dynamics, with the younger daughter-in-law of the household reporting underweight than the elder one in the house.

So what is the solution?

According to the health experts, India must conduct National Family Health Survey (NFHS) which has been due since 10 years.

In addition to NFHS, experts suggest implementing a continuous national monitoring system to track a representative sample of women throughout pregnancy and delivery. These systems cost little but provide valuable maternal health data

India has the National Food Security Act wherein pregnant women are entitled to receive Rs. 6,000 in maternity benefits. This is yet to be implemented.

India must devise effective maternity entitlements programme which could help in pregnancy weight gain. As a part of this program, a lump sum can be transferred to the mother in the early days of pregnancy such that it can be spent on nutritious food. Such efforts can indeed help treasure the mother and help build a strong nation.

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