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Br Med Bull. 2001;60:69-88.

The malnourished baby and infant.

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  • 1MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK.


The growth of a baby is constrained by the nutrients and oxygen it receives from the mother. A mother's ability to nourish her baby is established during her own fetal life and by her nutritional experiences in childhood and adolescence, which determine her body size, composition and metabolism. Mother's diet in pregnancy has little effect on the baby's size at birth, but nevertheless programmes the baby. The fetus adapts to undernutrition by changing its metabolism, altering its production of hormones and the sensitivity of tissues to them, redistributing its blood flow, and slowing its growth rate. In some circumstances, the placenta may enlarge. Adaptations to undernutrition that occur during development permanently alter the structure and function of the body.

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