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NICE tackles maternal and child nutrition

Quality standard aims to stave off health problems associated with poor diet

Caroline White

Friday, 31 July 2015

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published a quality standard to improve maternal and child nutrition to stave off the health problems associated with a poor diet.

The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the standard, but questioned how it can be implemented properly amid the current shortage of midwives on the ground.

A healthy diet is important for women who may become pregnant, as the woman's nutrition influences how her baby grows and develops and lays the foundations for her child's health. The mother's own health also depends on how well nourished she is before, during, and after pregnancy, says NICE

During the early years of a child's life, diet has an effect on growth and development, and is linked to many common childhood conditions such as iron deficiency anaemia, tooth decay and vitamin D deficiency. It can also affect the risk of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity in later life.

The new standard covers women before, during, and up to a year after the birth,   babies, and pre-school children. With a focus on low-income and other disadvantaged households, the standard is expected to contribute to improving outcomes in areas such as postnatal depression, childhood illnesses and infections.

“Women who may become pregnant need to be aware of the importance of a healthy diet as there’s most benefit from good nutrition before conception and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. There’s a strong link between poor maternal and child nutrition and deprivation, so improving the nutritional status of mothers and pre-school children who are disadvantaged is vital,” said Professor Gill Leng, Deputy Chief Executive of NICE.  

"The quality statements set out the priority actions to enable better nutrition for women who become pregnant and their children – such as  advice on eating healthily during pregnancy, and support for breastfeeding. Making sure that these priority steps are put into practice will help to improve the health of mothers-to-be and give their babies the best start in life,” she added.

Pregnant women attending antenatal and health visitor appointments should be advised how to eat healthily in pregnancy, says the standard, while women with a BMI of 30 or more following childbirth should be offered a structured weight loss programme.

Pregnant women and parents and carers of children under 4 years who may be eligible for the Healthy Start scheme should be given information and support to apply, says the standard.

And women should receive breastfeeding support from a service that uses an evaluated, structured programme.

Janet Fyle, Professional Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “There is a real need for a much wider view on this. It signals the need for a much stronger focus on better health and nutrition education in schools, health promotion for women and improved pre-conceptual care. It also requires significant investment in tackling social exclusion and deprivation in the UK.”

She added: “Ultimately the recommendations in this standard can only be implemented and put into practice if there are the people on the ground to do it. We know that England is still 2600 full-time midwives short of the numbers needed. We are also increasingly hearing of the loss of specialist midwives, particularly in areas such as breastfeeding support. If we are to improve maternal and child health— and it is crucial that we do—this issue of staff shortages also has to be addressed. The health of mothers and babies rests upon it.”

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