|Nurses at the Thọ Xuân General Hospital in the central Thanh Hóa Province check on a pregnant woman. — VNA/VNS Photo Dương Ngọc
HCM CITY— A lack of nutrition among pregnant women and those breastfeeding their babies is common in Việt Nam, with deficiencies in zinc, folate, vitamin A and calcium, according to experts.
Dr Lê Bạch Mai, former deputy director of the National Institute of Nutrition, said the latest nutrition recommendations issued last year by the Ministry of Health called for 1,200 mg per day for pregnant women and 1,300 mg per day for women who breastfeed their babies.
Mai spoke at an international conference on nutrition for the brain development of infants held on Sunday in HCM City.
The calcium content in many pregnant women’s meals meet only 50 per cent of needs, while there is also an insufficient amount of lipids.
“The average weight that a pregnant woman gains in the country is 9.4 kilos, lower than the recommended 10 to 12 kilos,” she said.
This affects the development of babies, Mai said.
Unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy is caused by different reasons, including nausea and poor appetite.
Dr Jacqueline Gould, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said: “Nutrients are the biological foundation of the brain and needed for everyday functioning. Calcium is best known for neuronal development and muscle movements, while 11 per cent of brain is lipid. Breast milk is high in lipids.”
Gould cited the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that calls for breastfeeding for the first six months and up to two years or longer with appropriate complementary feeding for nutrition, immunologic protection, and growth and development of infants and toddlers.
However, Mai said that 35 per cent of Vietnamese mothers breastfeed their infants with breast milk that lacks vitamin A.
To get the right nutrients to support fetal conception and growth as well as brain development, it is recommended that expectant mothers consume six units of milk and dairy products daily or specialised nutritional products for pregnant and breastfeeding women, in order to ensure well-rounded fetal conception and growth, according to Mai.
“Nutrition in the early stages is very important for the foetus, preventing neural tube defects and malnutrition as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart problems when they grow up,” she said.
Professor Tim Green of the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute said that pregnant women and those who breastfeed infants, especially in Asia where people eat a lot of carbohydrates’, should eat more protein to ensure sufficient gangliosides needed for optimal brain function during pregnancy and the infant’s early life.
“The maternal increase in ganglioside intake improves infants’ accrual of gangliosides. Human breast milk contains more gangliosides than infant formula, so breastfed infants have higher levels of brain gangliosides,” he said.
The conference was organised by the Việt Nam Association of Gynecology and Obstetrics in co-operation with the Anmum Materna-Fonterra Brands Việt Nam Co., Ltd. — VNS