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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recently published a quality standard to help improve maternal and child nutrition to prevent health problems associated with a poor diet.
Although the quality standard has been approved by The Royal College of Midwives, the effectiveness of its implementation has been questioned due to a lack of available midwives.
Professional advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, Janet Fyle, said: "We welcome this standard which provides the base for midwives and other health professionals to work from and give the best possible advice and care to parents.
"Midwives have a key role in advising and supporting women to eat more healthily. During pregnancy is an ideal opportunity to promote healthy eating and a healthier lifestyle. We also need to ensure that women who require it are signposted to appropriate weight management services and social support.
"There is also a real need for a much wider view on this. It signals the need for a much stronger focus on better health and nutrition education in schools, health promotion for women and improved pre-conceptual care. It also requires significant investment in tackling social exclusion and deprivation in the UK."
The NICE standard has suggested that pregnant women attending antenatal and health visitor appointments are given advice on a healthy diet, as the woman’s nutrition influences the baby’s future health and development. The mother’s own health also depends on how well nourished she is before, during, and after pregnancy.
During the early years of a child's life, diet has an effect on growth and development, and is linked to many common childhood conditions such as iron deficiency anaemia and tooth decay. It can also affect the risk of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity in later life.
The new standard supports babies, pre-school children and women before, during, and up to a year after the birth. With an aim to focus on low-income and disadvantaged households, the standard is expected to contribute to improving outcomes in areas such as postnatal depression, childhood illnesses and infections.
Professor Fyle, added: "Ultimately the recommendations in this standard can only be implemented and put into practice if there are people on the ground to do it. We know that England is still 2,600 full-time midwives short of the numbers needed. We are also increasingly hearing of the loss of specialist midwives, particularly in areas such as breastfeeding support. If we are to improve maternal and child health – and it is crucial that we do – this issue of staff shortages also has to be addressed."