How Poverty Affects PregnancyWomen living in poor rural communities have a higher risk of maternal mortality. An astounding 99 percent of maternal deaths take place in developing countries. More than half of these victims lived in sub-Saharan Africa and one-third lived in South Asia.

The number one cause of death for adolescent females in developing countries is complication in reproduction. The risk of death is higher in girls of the age 15 years and younger. Their country’s health systems often fail to provide adequate health services to survive pregnancy and childbirth.

An estimated 75 percent of maternal deaths are caused by:

  • High blood pressure: during pregnancy preeclampsia should be detected and can be remedied with magnesium sulfate.
  • Infections: when recognized in a timely manner, they can be treated, and good hygiene following childbirth can prevent it.
  • Excessive bleeding after childbirth can kill a healthy woman in a matter of hours. To reduce this risk, oxytocin is injected immediately after birth.
  • Diseases such as malaria and AIDS (during pregnancy) account for all other maternal deaths.

Poor Health Systems

In developed countries, it is typical for women to have at least four prenatal care visits. Postpartum care is also recommended and received by high-income countries. Unfortunately for millions of poor mothers, there is no access to skilled providers to help them.

The lack of access to health workers can be due to lack of information or an issue of distance. At times, cultural practices prevent women from getting the care they need, and most often the nearest health facility is in another community.

The World Health Organization is contributing to the Global Strategy to improve health for women and children. Their goal is to ensure access to a better health system with effective treatments, trained health workers, and health coverage programs. Without access to quality health care during these critical times of development, this is another way in how poverty affects pregnancy.

Food Insecurity Impacts Female Health

Food insecurity is another way in which poverty affects pregnancy. Creating a new life requires a lot of energy from a woman’s body. This is why women facing food insecurity are at risk of health problems. A poor diet can cause:

  • gestational diabetes
  • iron deficiency (the mother becomes anemic)
  • low birth weight.

If women do not intake the appropriate amount of nutrients, the baby will take the vitamins and minerals from their mother’s body. This weakens a woman’s immune system which is needed to fight off disease and infection.

The Importance of Nutrition for Child Development

A healthy diet when creating a new life is consuming 1,800 calories a day in the first trimester, 2,200 in the second trimester and 2,400 in the third trimester. Essential nutrients include:

  • calcium for healthy growth
  • iron for a baby’s blood supply and
  • folic acid, which reduces the risk of spina bifida and anencephaly (a brain defect).

Without proper nourishment, a child will suffer from chronic malnutrition. This leads to impaired brain development, a weakened immune system and shorter stature. This could mean that some children will be unable to complete schooling. This is yet another factor in how poverty affects pregnancy.

The USAID study shows that girls with stunted growth have their firstborn at approximately four years younger than non-stunted girls. Additionally, these girls who are not fully developed to give birth to a child contribute to the maternal death rate.

It does not stop there. UNICEF estimates the under-performance of these victims will cost their generation’s global economy $125 billion. The five countries where nearly half the population of children under age five are chronically malnourished include Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Eritrea, Burundi and Timor-Leste.

Overall, without access to a proper health system or proper nutrition, studies indicate the negative ways in how poverty can affect pregnancy. The health of a pregnant woman is vital for childbirth. Prenatal malnutrition stunts the development of children’s bodies and minds. Children can find themselves with learning challenges. This sets generations back from reaching their full potential to advance their communities, fueling the cycle of poverty.

-Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr