The scientists at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI ) and researchers of KEM hospital have found out in their study that seasonal energy stress among pregnant rural women has direct effect on the birth weight of their foetus. How a dry or wet season would change the diet of a pregnant rural mother and subsequently the size of her foetus has been explained by them through the study who now hope their findings would help improve the quality of maternal nutrition programmes.
The study points out that considering seasons was important in planning targeted strategies for implementing maternal nutrition programmes and improving the birth weight of the foetus in rural parts of the country. Dr C S Yajnik,director of the Diabetes unit of the KEM hospital,says the study showed that women among poor farming communities should reduce their activities during pregnancy especially in the harvest season,as this would improve the birth size of their foetus.
The study also found that exposure to winter season with less activity and higher maternal intakes of food has a positive effect and babies were born with high birth weight.
Dr Shobha Rao,scientist at ARI who along with others presented her findings in a research paper that was published in June this year in the International Journal of Epidemiology,says that a high prevalence of low birth weight (LBW) continues to be a major public health problem in rural India.
Previous studies have shown that LBW has detrimental consequences as it increases the risk for non-communicable diseases like hypertension,diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults. Health policies should be targeted to reduce the prevalence of low birth weight,Rao said.
A total of 770 pregnant women form six villages near Pune were included in the study and data on 633 full-term babies was analysed. Mothers were assessed for their intake and activity two times (at 18 th week and at 28 th week) during pregnancy and birth measurements were recorded within 72 hours of delivery.
Maternal intakes were significantly higher during winter,which is a harvest period while maternal activity was lowest during summer,which is a slack/hungry period. Birth weight was associated with maternal intakes in early gestation (18 th week) whereas maternal activity at late gestation (28 th week) had a significant negative association in all the seasons.
Prevalence of low birth weight was highest (41.1 per cent) by the end of rainy season and lowest (13.8 per cent) in summer. Exposure to the winter season had independent positive effect on birth weight and women who are exposed to the entire (October to January) winter season during gestation were likely to have birth weights higher by 90 gm. The interactive effect of higher maternal intakes with low maternal activity showed significantly higher birth weights,Rao explained.
These findings have tremendous implications for rural communities in India,says Yajnik who points out that the benefits of higher intake in winter season could be maximised by reduction in maternal activity. This can be achieved by advising pregnant women for lowering their activity in winter season especially the agricultural tasks which are laborious,tedious and demand long hours of sitting in squatting position.
In summer,when agricultural activity is at its lowest level,supplementing maternal intake could be beneficial. Hence,existing maternal intervention programs should concentrate on full coverage of all the pregnant women during summer season,researchers say. They have also urged rural mothers to plan their pregnancy in such a way that their last trimester falls in winter season.