Embryonic development is wholly dependent on maternal nutrition. If the mother eats nutritious and well-balanced food, then the foetal growth and development will be robust and healthy, but if undernourished, foetal growth will be drastically affected leading to underweight infants at birth as well as possible developmental defects arising from congenital abnormalities. Maternal nutrition during embryonic development directly affects foetal growth rate, organ development, body functioning, and posture.
Rapid growth and differentiation of bodily organs occur during the first 12 weeks of embryonic development; and it is at this time when the embryo is most susceptible to defects and growth abnormalities (Barbour, et al., 2012). For instance, the neural tube starts forming into the brain and the spine at barely ten days after conception and continues to grow throughout the pregnancy (Barbour, et al., 2012). In cases where the mother’s diet has not been enriched with folic acid, chances that the embryo may encounter developmental defects related to the neural tube such as spina bifida are incredibly high. It is recommended that folic acid be taken in supplements at least one month before conception and proceed on with the uptake through the first trimester to reduce chances of the foetus developing spina bifida. There are enriched food diets containing large quantities of folate such as rice, bread, cornmeal, cereals and flour that can be included in the diet. Other food varieties containing high levels of folate include liver, spinach, dairy products, poultry, and beans (Boyles, et al., 2017). The body does not however easily take up folate from the diet hence it is advisable to include dietary supplements.
Deficiency in B group vitamins including folic acid supplement during pregnancy has equally been associated with the development of Cleft palate and Cleft lip. Researchers from the national institute of health affirmed that folic acid of 0.4 milligrams per day primarily reduces risks of the infant being born with an isolated cleft lip (Wilcox, et al., 2007). It was examined that the development of facial clefts was directly related to the mothers’ folic acid, multivitamins and folates deficiencies in her diet- demonstrating the significance of maternal nutrition on foetal growth and development.
Folates are crucial in the formation of thymidylate as well as purines which are precursors for de novo DNA synthesis and consequently cell division. It is hence an essential component in rapidly dividing embryonic cells. Folate coenzymes also play a critical role in amino acid metabolism and methylation hence considered a viable intervention to preventing possible development of congenital abnormalities in human embryo (Wilcox, et al., 2007).
Another complication arising from poor nutrition is the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. This condition arises from a pregnant mother consuming alcohol regularly during the first weeks of pregnancy. When the alcohol passes through the placenta and gets to the developing fetus, it may derail proper intake of nutrients and oxygen to the vital developing organs, leading to complications. Such infants tend to have problems with their vision, their hearing, intellectual abilities, have poor judgement, kidney defects, slow growth, among others abnormalities (Davis-Anderson, et al., 2017).
It is hence evident that maternal nutrition largely affects the development of the fetus and may result in congenital disabilities and abnormalities if not appropriately addressed. The first three months of pregnancy tend to be involved with rapid growth and cell division, and it is at this time that the pregnant mothers need to keenly watch their diet and lifestyle habits. A balanced diet containing all the requisite nutrients, vitamins as well as supplements are crucial for proper growth and development of the fetus- that is wholly depended on maternal nutrition. It is hence essential for all expectant mothers to well informed of the nutritional requirements at various stages of their pregnancy under the guidance of a health practitioner in order to avoid such congenital disabilities and birth defects.
- Barbour, R. S., Macleod, M., Mires, G., & Anderson, A. S. (2012). Uptake of folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy: focus group analysis of women’s views and experiences. Journal of Human Nutrition & Dietetics, 25(2), 140-147.
- Boyles, A. L., Yetley, E. A., Thayer, K. A., & Coates, P. M. (2016). Safe use of high intakes of folic acid: research challenges and paths forward. Nutrition Reviews, 74(7), 469-474. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw015
- Davis-Anderson, K. L., Berger, S., Lunde-Young, E. R., Naik, V. D., Seo, H., Johnson, G. A., & … Ramadoss, J. (2017). Placental Proteomics Reveal Insights into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 41(9), 1551-1558.
- Wilcox, A. J., Lie, R. T., Solvoll, K., Taylor, J., McConnaughey, D. R., Abyholm, F., & … Drevon, C. A. (2007). Folic acid supplements and risk of facial clefts: national population based case-control study. BMJ: British Medical Journal (International Edition), 334(7591), 464-467.