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Effect of underweight mother on unborn child

  1. In today's Western world where extremes are more common than the exception, it becomes important to consider the consequences. More and more people are underweight. What is the consequence of such an extreme weight on our offspring? What does the weight of the mother do to the child during pregnancy? And does this have lifelong consequences for the child? This article will address the question of what influence being underweight affects the unborn child.

What is the influence of being underweight in the mother on the unborn child?

  1. One of the influences of underweight on women is that they will become pregnant less quickly, but when a woman does become pregnant, the low weight brings many complications. Below is a discussion of how underweight women become less fertile and how the mother's underweight affects the development of the fetus during pregnancy.

Impaired fertility

  1. It is often very difficult for underweight women to get pregnant. Many underweight women are often not fertile or less fertile because with a low body weight, the hypothalamus is unable to release GnRH in pulsating waves. This GnRH is responsible for the release of FSH and LH, FSH stimulates the growth of the ovarian follicles and LH is responsible for the bursting of the largest grown follicle (Silverthorn, 2013). So when a woman is extremely underweight, ovulation is not possible and thus fertilization is possible.

Increased risk of miscarriages

  1. In addition to the fact that underweight women are less fertile, there is also a much greater chance of a miscarriage (a birth before 16 weeks of pregnancy). Women with a low BMI are 1.7 times more likely to have a miscarriage compared to women with a healthy weight (Veleva et al., 2007). The higher rates of miscarriage in people with a low BMI can be explained by the action of leptin, a hormone that is predominantly produced in adipose tissue (Mitchell et al., 2005). Plasma leptin levels correlate with BMI and body fat percentage (Andrico et al., 2002). Leptin and its receptors are expressed in the secretory endomentrium (endometrium) where they regulate uterine wall growth (Bouloumie et al., 1998) and embryo implantation (Cervero et al., 2004). Low plasma levels of leptin are associated with early and recurrent miscarriages (Lage et al., 1999) and this may explain why underweight women have an increased risk of miscarriage.

Greater risk of underweight newborns

  1. When miscarriage does not occur, it is still not always certain that the baby will be fine. Being underweight before pregnancy is a risk factor for a decrease in fetal growth (Doherty et al. 2006). In women with a low pre-pregnancy BMI, a low birth weight is twice as common as in women of a healthy weight. (Jeric et al., 2013). We speak of a low birth weight when a baby has a weight that is too low for the duration of the pregnancy. The term SGA is used for this, this abbreviation stands for Small for Gestational Age.

Consequences of the weight of the mother

  1. Women who are underweight before pregnancy have significantly more incidents of spontaneous preterm birth and SGA than women who are normal weight before pregnancy. We speak of premature birth when the child is born after a pregnancy of less than 37 weeks.

Required Weight Gain

  1. It is important for the mother to gain weight during pregnancy for the development of the baby. Usually the mother's weight gain in the first trimester is minimal, only at the end of this trimester does weight start to accumulate. In the second and third trimester, weight gain becomes linear (Pitkin Spellacy, 1978). extra birth weight and in the third semester for 17 grams. This shows that when a mother has difficulty gaining weight in the second semester, this has the most impact.

Consequences of missing nutrients

  1. Not only weight plays an important role in pregnancy. It is also important for pregnant women to pay attention to nutrients. Iron and glucose, among other things, are very important for pregnant women.

Effects of fasting during pregnancy

  1. When women fast during pregnancy (due to an eating disorder or lack of food, for example), adjustments in the metabolism of the woman occur. The secretion of the steroid hormone hPL (human placental lactogen) from the placenta changes. This hormone mobilizes maternal fatty acids and thus saves glucose for the fetus and placenta. In fasting pregnant women, the release of hPL is increased due to, among other things, the low blood sugar level (Kitzmiller, 1980). The increase in hPL can be seen in the blood by a rapid increase in fatty acid and ketone concentrations (Schreiner et al., 1980). During pregnancy, the glucose concentration in the blood changes. In women who eat normally, this is a small change, but it does take place and the concentration of glucose gradually decreases during pregnancy. Various metabolic reactions that occur during a period of fasting are extra violent in pregnant women. The effects are stronger in both time and quantity. This general appearance is called accelerated starvation. You can also see this strongly when you look at glucose. The gradually small change that occurs in healthy women is rapid and large in underweight women. Several studies have been done in animals (Steel Leng, 1973), which support the hypothesis that the increase in glucose conversion during pregnancy is a direct result of the growing fetal mass in the womb of the mother. This means that the more glucose the woman has in her body, the better the fetus can grow. This shows again how important it is for a pregnant woman to get enough nutrients for the development of the child.


  1. Underweight women who start a pregnancy take a considerable risk. There are many things that can go wrong that lead to premature birth as well as growth retardation for the unborn children. In addition, it is important for all pregnant women to gain enough weight during pregnancy.

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