Today, we have evidence-based, cost-effective solutions available and ready to scale to improve maternal nutrition.
While proven maternal nutrition interventions exist, the capacity to support scale-up is limited, and – in high-burden contexts –delivery systems are often weak.
Antenatal care (ANC) is an important platform for integrated delivery of essential health and nutrition services for pregnant women and strengthening ANC services offers an opportunity to improve maternal nutrition and reduce maternal mortality in low- and middle-income countries.
Healthcare workers should be equipped to identify potential nutritional risks for the pregnancy, deliver nutrition counseling, address the social and behavioral challenges faced by women and adolescent girls, and improve the uptake of proven maternal nutrition interventions.
The World Health Organization has provided comprehensive, evidence-based guidance on the practice, organization, and delivery of ANC to facilitate a positive pregnancy experience, with 14 of the 49 recommendations in the WHO’s ANC guidelines being related to nutrition. This guidance was updated in 2020 regarding MMS and Vitamin D supplementation, and in 2021 regarding zinc supplementation.
UNICEF also published guidance in support of UNICEF’s vision for maternal nutrition programming as outlined in the UNICEF Nutrition Strategy 2020–2030. This guidance is complemented by a program brief that describes a set of approaches to strengthen maternal nutrition counseling
The following interventions – when integrated within a well-functioning health system and effectively supervised and managed – can significantly improve maternal health and survival and ensure healthy birth outcomes.
The societal impact of scaling up prenatal nutrition interventions is dramatic. Tackling anemia alone could lead to increased productivity of up to 17 percent in these populations.
Greater investment in scaling up prenatal nutrition interventions will not only improve maternal wellbeing and birth outcomes but will also lead to better educational and productivity outcomes later in the life of these babies.
Scaling up prenatal nutrition interventions could lead to significant human capital gains in schooling and lifetime incomes in low- and middle-income countries, with the greatest benefits for countries with high burdens of adverse outcomes.
Increasing coverage with MMS supplementation to 90% of pregnant women in 132 low- and middle-income countries would lead to an increase of 5 million school years and cumulative lifetime income gains by approximately $18 billion for each birth cohort.
For calcium supplementation, the expected impact would be 4 million additional school years and also an estimated $18 billion lifetime cumulative income gain per birth cohort.