Healthcare professionals must provide information to low-income families about a government scheme that offers coupons for free vitamin supplements and food to pregnant women and parents, according to a new national standard.
The standard, developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, identifies six priority areas for improving child and maternal nutrition, with particular focus on disadvantaged families.
“There’s a strong link between poor maternal and child nutrition, and deprivation”
Professor Gill Leng
Advice on the benefits of Healthy Start scheme coupons for increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in diets must also be supplied by healthcare workers to families, according to NICE.
A weight loss programme should be offered to women with a body mass index of 30 or more after childbirth to improve their health and help improve their nutrition for possible future pregnancies, added the standard.
NICE also said healthy eating advice should be supplied during antenatal and health visitor appointments, and breastfeeding support provided by a service that uses an evaluated, structured programme.
Lastly, parents and carers should be given advice on introducing their baby to a variety of food to complement breastmilk or formula milk.
“Involving parents and carers in discussions about starting solid food when they attend the six to eight week health visitor appointment with their baby helps them to introduce solid food when their baby is around six months, minimising poor infant outcomes associated with starting solid food earlier or later,” the standard added.
“If we are to improve maternal and child health… the issue of staff shortages also has to be addressed”
Royal College of Midwives
NICE said the new standard was expected to help improve outcomes in areas including postnatal depression, childhood illnesses and infections and iron-deficiency anaemia.
Professor Gill Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: “Good nutrition before, during and after pregnancy benefits the growth and development of the baby and the health of the mother.”
“There’s a strong link between poor maternal and child nutrition and deprivation, so improving the nutritional status of mothers and pre-school children who are disadvantaged is vital,” she added.
The Royal College of Midwives welcomed the new standard, but also said a “much wider view” needed to be taken, with a stronger focus by schools on health and nutrition and improved preconception care.
It also warned that staff shortages – particular among specialist midwives who offer services such as breastfeeding support – could be a threat to the standard being met.
“We know that England is still 2,600 full-time midwives short of the numbers needed. 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,” said RCM professional advisor Janet Fyle.