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Nutritional concerns for women with high-risk pregnancies

How a woman eats throughout pregnancy affects her own health and that of her developing baby.

December 04, 2018

Nutritional concerns for women with high-risk pregnancies

Nutrition is especially important for women who are experiencing elevated risk during pregnancy, due to a pre-existing chronic condition or a condition that develops during pregnancy, such as diabetes or hypertension. These conditions contribute to higher risks during pregnancy, and managing the risk is essential not only to safeguard the health of both the mother and baby, but also to prevent avoidable costs. 

For example, preexisting diabetes (type 1 or type 2 diagnosed in the mother before pregnancy) — which, according to a November 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control, is prevalent in just under 1% of all pregnancies — increases infants’ risk for congenital anomalies, stillbirth, and being large for gestational age. The prevalence of gestational diabetes is even higher, at nearly 6%. According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, labor and birth costs for patients with complications may be over 30% higher than those without complications.

Medicaid and complicated pregnancies

Managing complicated pregnancies is important for many health plans, but it may have outsized importance for Medicaid payors. Medicaid currently finances about 45% of all births in the United States, and nearly two out of every three adult women enrolled in Medicaid are in their reproductive years (ages 19-44). Studies show that women of lower socioeconomic status generally have poorer nutritional habits, and the lack of access to nutritious food has become a major public health concern. Recently, the healthcare industry has begun to recognize the importance of the concept of “food as medicine,” which embraces the idea that food is an essential part of the treatment of a chronic disease.

How are health plans addressing women who are classified with high-risk pregnancies? 

Clients at Mom’s Meals® are effectively providing this group of women with direct access to the much-needed, nutrient-rich foods their bodies need during these nine months and immediately after delivery. This is not only resulting in positive outcomes, but also helping to minimize the costs of pregnancy due to complications.

Consider Mikayla, a 27-year-old mother-to-be who struggles with obesity and who has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Because her plan includes a home-delivered meal benefit, Mikayla receives two meals a day for the duration of her pregnancy, and for two weeks after she delivers her baby. Each dish is designed to meet her needs of proper nutrition and blood glucose control. As a result, Mikayla is better able to keep her HbA1c under control, and her baby has normal birth weight.

“It’s imperative that women experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, whether due to a health condition or bed-rest prescription, have access to nutritious and convenient meals, despite their socioeconomic status. The impact of having the meals that an expectant mom and her developing baby need, with her specific nutritional requirements, actually delivered to her home during pregnancy, cannot be underestimated,” said Catherine Macpherson, senior vice president of healthcare strategy and development, and chief nutrition officer for Mom’s Meals. “At Mom’s Meals, we’re working with health plans and providers to develop solutions for pregnant women, as well as other populations, including people struggling to manage a chronic condition or facing behavioral health challenges — solutions that can either stand alone or be integrated into a fuller care program.”

Mom's Meals can help

Good nutrition plays a crucial role in maternal wellness — both before and after delivery. But with an increasing number of Americans challenged with food insecurity, lack of access to healthy foods and poor dietary habits continue to contribute to negative maternal health outcomes. 

Many health plans partner with Mom’s Meals to enroll their pregnant members in a meal-delivery program to ensure they have regular, easy access to the nutrient-rich foods that support a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period. We also offer a range of options for pregnant women and new mothers managing chronic conditions including diabetes-friendly, renal-friendly, heart-friendly, lower sodium and protein+ meal options.

Catherine Macpherson is also a registered dietitian nutritionist and an expert in care transitions and chronic care program development and measurement. For questions about incorporating meals into care programs for your members or patients, contact Catherine at 844-280-2134 or