Figure 1: Four babies (n.d.). Source:



Prenatal nutrition is the nutrition of the fetus or embryo while inside the uterus of the mother. During this period, the fetus will undergo vast growth and development which is primarily affected by the nutrition of the mother. The fetus receives all forms of nutrients directly from the mother; therefore it is essential for the mother to eat a healthy, well balanced diet that includes all of the essential vitamins and minerals (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).

Dietary Factors

It is important for a pregnant mother to maintain a well balanced diet; including carbohydrates, fats, and proteins because structural development of the fetus requires an adequate amount them all; a major absence of any of these may cause growth retardation (Lumery, 2003). Sufficient glucose is required for Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production in cell growth within the embryo (Dairy, n.d.).
Figure 2: Prenatal Vitamins. (n.d.). Source:


Supplements are a good source for vitamin intake in regards to development while in the womb, recommended for mothers who have difficulty in maintain daily vitamin intake (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). Supplementation is an excellent source for mothers who are currently experiencing malnutrition during pregnancy, or for women who are vegans, as many essential vitamins and minerals are found only in meat or animal by-products (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). No major benefits are recorded in supplement intake versus proper natural nutrition intake (Lumery, 2003).


The infancy period consists of the neonatal stage, which is from birth to 28 days, and the infancy stage, which is from 1 month to approximately 12-18 months (Balakas & Solberg, 2009). Infants have unique nutritional needs for three reasons: high energy needs to support rapid growth, immature digestive tract and kidneys, and the size of their bodies (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). During the first year of life, an infant’s diet should consist of 40% - 50% fat, as lower levels can be harmful, and no more that 20% of the daily energy requirement should come from protein, because the infant’s kidneys have limited ability to process amines (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).

Breast Milk vs. Formula

According to UNICEF (2009), breast milk is the best food for a baby in the first six months of life. One major benefit is the antibodies and immune cells that are passed through the milk from the mother to the baby, providing protection against any diseases or infection that the mother is immune to (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). Breastfeeding is also beneficial because it is associated with decreased child and adulthood allergies, as well a decreased chance of obesity in later years (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). One disadvantage to breast milk is the low levels of vitamin D. Health Canada (2004) recommends that a supplement be taken since breast milk does not meet this daily requirement.
Formula is designed in a way to mimic breast milk as closely as possible (Weaver & Stockert, 2009). One advantage of formula is the presence of TPAN (total potentially available nucleosides). TPAN helps inhibit the suppression of the immune system, which can help protect the infant from certain bacteria and fungi (Weaver & Stockert, 2009). A disadvantage to certain formulas is the presence of palm and palm olein (PO) oils. Infants fed formula with these types of fat had significantly lower bone mineral content, because of high amounts of calcium in their stools (Weaver & Stockert, 2009).

Solid Foods

Solid foods can be introduced into the infant’s diet at the six month mark due to a maturing digestive system (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). At six months, the infant’s stores of iron become depleted, making iron a must for the infants diet (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007). New foods should be introduced one at a time, and only one per week, in order to monitor potential allergies (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).

Foods to Avoid

  • Foods that can cause choking: e.g. grapes, raisins (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).
  • Corn syrup/honey: May contain Clostridium botulinum which is dangerous to infants immature digestive tract (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).
  • Goat’s Milk: Low in the nutrients folate, vitamin C and iron (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).
  • Cow’s Milk: Too concentrated in minerals and proteins, so the kidneys cannot handle it until after the age of one (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).
  • Fruit Juices: Poorly absorbed and can cause diarrhea (Thompson, Manore & Sheeshka, 2007).


The World Health Organization defines malnutrition as "the cellular imbalance between supply of nutrients and energy and the body's demand for them to ensure growth, maintenance, and specific functions." (Shashidhar, 2009). Malnutrition is the most important risk factor for illness and death around the world, causing more than half of the deaths in children (Shashidhar, 2009). If an infant suffers from malnutrition, there are several short- and long-term effects which can be very damaging.

Short-term Effects

There are numerous changes that can occur in an infant who does not receive proper nutrition. Some are:
Figure 3: Baby Cying (2007). Source:

  • Fatigue (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Dizziness (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Weight loss (RightHealth and A.D.A.M., 2009).
  • Skin changes such as dryness, peeling, and raw areas (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Nail changes such as rigidness and cracks (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Hair changes such as thinning, falling out and becoming dull in colour (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Behavioural changes such as irritability, apathy, decreased social responsiveness, and anxiety (Shashidhar, 2009).

Long-term Effects

Malnutrition can also cause serious long-term effects in an infant as they become older, which can lead to physical disability, illness and possibly death (RightHealth and A.D.A.M., 2009). Some include:

  • Changes in brain development; including slower growth rate, lower brain weight, thinner cerebral cortex, an increased number of neurons, insufficient myelination and changes in the dendritic spines, all of which are similar in those with mental retardation (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Immune system impairment, predisposing them to other typical childhood infections (Shashidhar, 2009).
  • Developmental delays in achievement of motor skills, mental development, and possible permanent cognitive deficits, the severity depending on the duration of the malnutrition (Shashidhar, 2009).


Balakas, K., & Solberg, S.M. (2009). Conception through adolescence. In Potter, P.A. & Perry, A.G. (Eds.), Canadian fundamentals of nursing (4th ed.) (pp.329-362). Toronto: Mosby Inc.
Dairy, J,. (n.d.). Growth and development: Fetal development. 92, 503-505. Retrieved from
Four Babies [Online Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2009 from
Prenatal Vitamins [Online Image]. (2009). Retrieved December 10 2009 from
Lumery, L, H,. & Susser, E, S,. (2003). Long-term effects of prenatal and early postnatal nutrition on adult psychosocial outcomes. In: Tremblay, R, E,. & Barr, R, G, Encyclopedia on early childhood development (pp 1-7). Columbia University, USA: Center of excellence for early childhood development.
Public health agency of Canada. (2007). A decade of promoting the health of mothers, babies and communities. The Canada prenatal nutrition program(pp. 5-22). Ottawa, Ontario: Her majesty the queen in right of Canada, represented by the minister of health.
RightHealth. (2009). Malnutrition in babies. Retrieved December 4, 2009, from
Shashidhar, H. R. (2009). Malnutrition. eMedicine. Retrieved from

Baby Crying [Online Image]. (2007). Retrieved December 10 2009 from
Thompson, J., Manore, M., & Sheeshka, J. (2007). Nutrition: A functional Approach. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.
UNICEF. (2009). Infant and young child feeding. Retrieved December 8 2009 from
Weaver, K., & Stockert, P.A. (2009). Nutrition. In Potter, P.A. & Perry, A.G. (Eds.), Canadian fundamentals of nursing (4th ed.) (pp.1043-1072). Toronto: Mosby Inc.