February 17, 2021
• Updated on
26 Jul

Effects of Nutritional Deficiency during Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an overwhelming experience – physically as well as emotionally. These nine months of happy anticipation are packed with excitement and experiences that one has never felt before.

At the same time, this is also a stressful period for expecting mothers who have to carefully watch every step and bite they take, especially when it comes to the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.


Nutritional requirements of women change during pregnancy. For a healthy mother and baby, ample rest and nutrition during these nine months are non-negotiable. It can help combat the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. From the neighbourhood aunts to Google, expecting women are barraged with information on ‘what to eat and what not’ from all around.


Most women find it challenging to filter out misinformation and often plan their nutrition intake based on what is generally followed as part of either tradition or peers.

A balanced meal based on science is often sidelined due to a lack of proper guidance, and it can sometimes result in negative effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.

There is no harm in seeking an expert’s help to understand your nutritional requirements during pregnancy, which can help you with healthy weight gain during pregnancy, weight loss post-pregnancy, and a healthy baby. (Also read: Diet plan for healthy pregnancy)


A popular misconception is that a pregnant mother should eat twice the amount of food to feed herself and her child. Eating indiscriminately and more than what is required does no help in combating the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.


During pregnancy, the body becomes super-efficient to absorb more nutrients from the food they eat. The change in nutritional requirements during pregnancy should be handled smartly. The importance is, hence, on what one eats and maintaining a balanced meal in the right proportions. 


At this stage, a woman's macronutrient (energy) and micronutrient (e.g. vitamins, minerals) requirements increase. It's imperative to have a diet plan that will give an expecting mother both the calories and the specific micronutrients essential for maintaining her and her growing baby's health. Overeating and under eating are not the answer to fight the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.


While nutritionists advise 300 extra calories daily to maintain a healthy pregnancy, this count may vary from person to person. The factors that should be kept in mind while chalking out a balanced diet plan to avoid harmful effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy are — current weight(average, overweight, or underweight), current trimester, and the desired weight gain goal. ( Also read: 5 nutrients you are probably not having enough in First Trimester)


Since absorption of nutrients is high at this time, pregnant women should avoid fatty junk food. A poor diet also refers to the one that lacks nutrients, which can become a cause of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.

One must make sure that the calories should come from a balanced diet comprising of various kinds of proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which also help in reducing some pregnancy symptoms, like nausea and constipation.


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy that includes appropriate weight gain, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and fair and timely vitamin and mineral supplementation.


Poor nutrition has been linked to an increases risk of gestational anemia, hypertension and low birth weight of the baby.


Maternal nutrition plays a critical role during pregnancy.Research has proven that diet significantly affects a mother's and baby's health. Lack of adequate food of good quality and quantity during pregnancy can cause health problems for both the mother and her foetus.


It has been found that maternal malnutrition increases the risk of gestational anemia, hypertension, stress, foetal deaths, and maternal mortality. Foetal intrauterine growth retardation and low birth weight are what could be the potential risks for a newborn. The adverse effect of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy also include poor development of the immune system of the infant.


What are the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy on mother’s health?


Pregnant women with inadequate nutrition are at a higher risk of pregnancy complications. They may experience more significant maternal morbidity and have an increased risk of premature birth and miscarriage.

The ill-effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy also include potential risk of developing anemia, fatigue, infection, and neurological complications.


Along with analyzing the benefits of individual micronutrients during pregnancy, it's vital to assess micronutrient deficiency's health risks.

The health risks which may arise as a result of a defect in particular micronutrients include:


∙ Vitamin B12 deficiency: A new study shows that women deficit with vitamin B12 in the first trimester have up to fivetimes more chances to have a child with neural tube defects, such as spinabifida.


∙ Vitamin K deficiency: Severe vitamin K deficiency can cause bruising and bleeding problems because the blood will take longer to clot, which presents higher risks during delivery when women lose substantial amounts of blood. 


∙ Iron deficiency: Iron deficiency increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby and premature delivery.Post-delivery, anaemia causes tiredness and reduces breastmilk production.Studies also associate iron deficiency with postnatal depression. So make sure you meet your nutritional requirements during pregnancy.


∙ Iodine deficiency: Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to maternal hypothyroidism. Adequate thyroid is crucial for foetal development. It also leads to congenital anomalies, decreased intelligence, cretinism, and maternal and foetal goiter.


The effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy can have a range of adverse outcomes for both the baby and the mother.

What are the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy on the health of the foetus /newborn?


Around 17% of babies born in India are born with a Low Birth Weight (LBW) issues caused by malnutrition in pregnant women. The effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy can have a range of adverse outcomes such as Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR), perinatal mortality, birth defects, underdevelopment of some organs, disorders (neurological, circulatory, intestinal and respiratory) and Cretinism (a congenital condition affecting the thyroid gland which results in a lack of coordination).


Prenatal nutrition is critical as deficiency of micronutrients lead to poor  developmental outcomes in kids, including deficits inattention, lower cognitive functioning, and disruptive behaviour problems.


There are also numerous foetal health risks associated with micronutrient deficiency during pregnancy. Deficiency in particular micronutrients in a woman whilst she is pregnant has detrimental effects on specific aspects of foetal development such as:


·      Maternal Vitamin D deficiency is associated with pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication associated with high blood pressure and foetal rickets (a condition that weakens bones).


·      Maternal Folate deficiency- Folate is a vitamin B that helps in DNA, red blood cell, and other genetic material production, which reduces the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.


·      Maternal iodine deficiency would lead to foetal hypothyroidism and other congenital abnormalities and decreased intelligence and low psychomotor effect (affected movement).


A nutrient-rich diet is key to healthy pregnancy.



Eating healthy is a norm that every individual should follow, although, during pregnancy, it's crucial to be on a constant check about food you eat. No matter how much you resist the idea but controlling and in some cases, altogether quitting all the unhealthy food habits is the first step every expecting woman should take towards a healthy pregnancy.


The frequent coffee breaks changes to herbal tea and weekend nights have a whole new meaning, even before the little one is born. It becomes a first natural choice to eat healthy for the baby. Eating healthy food is also the best way to stay clear of any adverse effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.


Eating clean and healthy also helps pregnant women keep clear of excessive weight gain during pregnancy and keep the mind stress-free mind. A healthy diet during pregnancy also translates into more sustainable energy, stronger immune system, and reduced risk of diseases like thyroid, gestational diabetes, etc for the expecting mothers.


Improve your energy levels, mood and hormonal balance during pregnancy with the help of balanced diet plan.



1. Easy pregnancy

If eating healthy was always something you wanted to do, there is no better time to switch to healthy alternatives. Pregnancy cravings for junk food is quite common, and while tasting does not harm, it's always good to be mindful of the quantities. Good nutrition during pregnancy can also improve labor and delivery, which is never a bad thing!


2. Increased Energy levels

Experiencing general tiredness, fatigue, and gastric bloating is common during pregnancy and could also possibly be seen as some mild but significant effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. The best and easiest way to tackle this is to have a wholesome diet in pregnancy rather than eat a heavy meal. Having food at 3-4 times a day should help deal with fatigue.


3. Healthy Foetal Development

A combination of different nutrients and minerals at the right proportions contributes to fighting the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Developing every organ of a foetus requires having all elements like proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals from the natural state being ideal. In case of adverse conditions of deficiency, supplementing it is the next best option than omitting.


4. Better Sleep

Ensuring you are eating complete meals each day and staying away from too much caffeine will help you get some beauty rest. Vitamin B, calcium, and iron also aid in improved sleep.


5. Reduced Risk of Getting Sick

A healthy diet in pregnancy must include lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, coupled with plenty of rest, prevents seasonal sickness like flu.

It is important not to miss your supplements pills during pregnancy.



·        Folic Acid

Folic acid or folate is a vitamin B nutrient crucial in preventing adverse effects of nutritional deficiency in pregnancy such as congenital disabilities like neural tube defects in the baby's brain and spinal cord. Generally, doctors prescribe folic acid tablets to women planning to conceive, which is way before the actual pregnancy.


Ideal dosage:  600 to 800 micrograms a day before conception and throughout pregnancy.


·      Calcium

It's a known fact that calcium is essential for bone development. Insufficient calcium intake would weaken the mother from nutrients being drawn from the mother's reserves to develop her baby. To ensure both mother and baby are not deficient in calcium, it's crucial to consume the ideal quantity.


Ideal dosage: 1000 milligrams a day.


·      Iron

Green leafy vegetables contribute to iron needs. Iron helps in ensuring blood supply for the baby and mother. In addition to the extra production needed for the baby, the mother should take care not to be anemic as blood ensures that all nutrients reach the baby.


Ideal dosage: 27 milligrams of iron a day.


·      Protein

Muscle development of the baby comes with proteins. If a vegetarian, its crucial to ensure the quantities of pulses eaten are more than usual for non-vegetarians, it's easier to gain the goal with meats. (Also read: Why is protein important during pregnancy)


Ideal dosage: 70-100 grams aday.


·      Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, thereby helping in the baby's bones and teeth development. Our body absorbs vitamin D directly from sunlight. However, if that is not possible, having supplements is crucial.


Ideal dosage: Exposure to direct sunlight or 600 international units (IU) a day.




Avoid overeating during pregnancy. An expecting mother only needs 300 more calories than her regular calorie intake.

Mistake 1: Eating for two

As per the U.S department of health, an average adult woman needs calories between 1600 to 2400 per day. It's quite common for first-time mommies to go overboard thinking they should eat twice as much as their regular diet for their growing little one. What this leads to is being overweight and even complications while in labor.


The calorie intake should also be according to the mother's current BMI. If the current body weight is underweight or overweight, the calorie intake should be increased or decreased as per the case. However, the generic rule of thumb is that you need only 300 calories more than your regular calorie intake.


The idea is to have small balanced meals throughout the day and keep yourself hydrated. Keeping hunger pangs at bay by eating right will help you restrict your diet to only what is necessary and check your cravings. Also, what one needs to remember is that this extra calorie intake should be healthy, easily digestible food.


Mistake 2: Inadequate iron intake

One of the most common mistakes pregnant women commit is to stop iron supplements due to nausea and constipation during the first trimester. The need for iron dramatically increases during pregnancy to support maternal blood volume, hemoglobin formation, and foetal iron that the baby will use after birth too.


The core concept of delayed cord clamping is to ensure maximum blood intake, improving iron status in an infant for six months. For this to be a success, the red blood cell volume should be sufficient in the mother throughout her pregnancy, making iron intake crucial.


If iron supplements are causing too much discomfort and consult with your doctor to take a break from it, but pregnant women must not miss them at all.


Mistake 3: Cutting down on folic acid

Folic acid is vital for a pregnant woman, approx. 400 MCG per day, for the healthy development of the foetus's brain and nervous system, which occurs during the first 45 days of life (usually, when a woman doesn't even know yet that she's pregnant).

It's ideal for expecting moms to start consuming folic acid when planning to have a baby. Some women may need to take a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin to meet this requirement. Natural sources of folic acids are green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, orange juice, and milk.


Do not over or under do calcium. Reach out for more natural sources of calcium such as milk, curd and cottage cheese.

Mistake 4: Not consuming calcium the right way 

As we have already discussed, calcium is essential during pregnancy for the bone development of the baby. However, a widespread mistake is to over or under do calcium.

The recommended amount of calcium intake during pregnancy is 1,000 mg per day. An excess of calcium in the system risks kidney stone formation, and a deficit makes the body deplete from its stores. 

The important part is if you miss a dose of calcium, you should note take two doses together to compensate, instead, have natural calcium sources like milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt. If lactose intolerant, consider non-dairy sources of calcium like salmon, broccoli, beans, figs, beans, and almonds.


Mistake 5: Skipping meals and not eating enough

Whether you are a working or at-home pregnant woman – skipping a meal is a big no-no. Pregnant women often ask, “How long can I go without eating while pregnant?” No matter how much work is on your plate during the day, you need to make meals your first priority. Just as it goes with over eating, under-eating could pose a threat too.

We tend to be underhanded and skip meals as 'not being hungry'.In such situations, it's ideal to eat light and not skip meals. Another reason behind undervaluing the need to eat is the pressure of looking fit during and post-pregnancy.

Nowadays, women are constantly worried about weight gain and often overlook nutritional needs during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. With the help of a healthy diet in pregnancy, one can not only limit the weight gain but lose it too post-pregnancy easily.


A high sugar, salt and carb diet can cause excessive inflammation in the body and may even lead to gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Mistake 6: Going overboard with sugar & carbs

Pregnancy cravings are common. Though some are an indicator of the nutrients that the body needs, most of it could also be emotional eating which comes with hormonal changes in pregnancy.

With the latter, women tend to resort to too much sugar and carbs, unchecked quantities of which can lead to excessive inflammation in the body, including acne, gestational diabetes, and eczema.

Mistake 7: Not managing the hunger pangs the right way

More than being discomfort, hunger pangs can also give a false alarm to the mother during pregnancy. Ensuring to have the right foods handy is crucial. Planning on favorite and healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, cheese and keeping them in places easy to reach out as office desks and handbags should tame this problem and relieve stress.

Meal planning is the perfect way to leave no room for hunger pangs. This also helps you ensure that all your meals and snack are healthy.And over a period, you get so hooked to healthy eating that it becomes a habit that continues to serve you right as you deliver and get on a road to reclaim your pre-pregnancy body.




Including superfoods makes it easier to pack macro and micronutrients in a single meal. These pregnancy superfoods keep you healthier and stronger to beat down all the stress and strains of pregnancy and labour. If you are worried about the effects of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy, then you must include these in your healthy diet for pregnancy:


Sweet potatoes are a good source of beta carotene.

 1. Sweet potatoes

Beta carotene is what our body transforms into Vitamin A and sweet potatoes are excellent sources. Vitamin A is essential for the growth and cell differentiation of the little one. It can be boiled and replaced for mashed potatoes as a side for dinner or just eaten as a snack.


2. Leafy vegetables & other vegetables

Green leafy vegetables packed with all essential nutrients and ever-important folic acid at its natural state is a good addition. Other vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, are loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C– also known as ascorbic acid. 

Fruits & green vegetables are the must-have foods for pregnancy diet.


3. Fresh Fruits

Apart from aiding in better digestion (due to the higher fiber content), a recent study indicates that the higher the number of fruits in a mother's diet, the more the foetus's cognitive development.

Fruits are also a great natural source of vitamins and minerals, with each colour group of fruits providing different types of it. Citrus and berries, for example, are superfoods that are easily digestible and have high nutrient content.


4. Milk and dairy products

Calcium contributes to the baby's overall skeletal development.About 99 percent of all calcium is stored as bones and teeth in our bodies.During pregnancy, our body needs 1000 mg of calcium per day from either natural sources or supplements.

All types of milk and milk products and fish ate with bones like sardines are rich in calcium.


Pulses and legumes provide slow-digesting carbs and thus, do not spike your blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

5. Pulses and legumes

Pulses and legumes are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and slow-digesting carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar at the right levels. Sprouted beans are also a rich source of vitamin B 12 that allows the baby's brain and liver development. 


Egg yolk is safe to consume during pregnancy. It is a primary source of choline and iron, which keep your amniotic membranes healthy.

6. Eggs

Eggs are the richest protein source, are low in calories, and are also overflowing with high-quality omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, choline, and iron to help keep your amniotic membranes healthy preventing congenital disabilities in the foetus.

Do not avoid consuming the egg-yolk during pregnancy, because that is the primary source of choline. Remember to cook these and avoid raw eggs altogether thoroughly.


7. Dry Fruits and Nuts

Dry fruits and nuts like apricots, raisins, almonds, pistachios, dates and walnuts are great iron sources. They contain folic acid, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, which will prevent your bowel movement from getting sluggish as your pregnancy progresses


Bananas help fight pregnancy fatigue and constipation.

8. Bananas

Bananas are rich in potassium, vitamin B6, and fiber and offer quick energy to fight off pregnancy fatigue and constipation. Morning sickness being common during pregnancy, bananas go easy on your stomach if you are nauseated.


Lovneet Batra
Lovneet Batra is a clinical nutritionist with over a decade of experience treating patients and educating people on the benefits of a healthy diet. One of Delhi’s most sought-after nutritionists...
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