You probably know the importance of vitamins during pregnancy, but here’s a sobering and tragic example of what can happen to mothers who lack sufficient nutrients. In rural Nepal, a sample of 426 women were examined for evidence of a vitamin A deficiency. The researchers looked for ocular signs like Bitot’s spots. Nearly 1 in 5 women admitted to experiencing night blindness at some during their pregnancy. Some were even night blind after the pregnancy was over at the time the interview was conducted.

The problem for these poor mothers is a deficiency in vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy child development. Because most of these women are breastfeeding, their children rely on them directly for nutrients not just during the pregnancy, but for at least a few years afterwards. In rural Nepal, this deficiency is endemic among children of preschool age. That’s negative for both the child and the mother, because neither one gets enough of the critical vitamin.

Researchers produced compelling statistics that correlated night blindness with factors like small arm circumference, incidence of night blindness in a previous pregnancy, the literacy of the head of the household, access to water, and ownership of animals. You can probably see that each of these factors really is an indication of the economic and educational success of the family. The correlation seems to be that poor, malnourished women were more likely to suffer from night blindness.

Another study in Jumla associated low socioeconomic status with a low serum retinal concentration in pregnant women. If it sounds as simple as offering supplementation to pregnant women, it actually could be that easy. Previous studies do describe that a pregnant woman’s impaired dark adaption was noticeably improved following vitamin A supplementation.

Sadly, despite the mountain of evidence suggesting that night blindness, child mortality, and mother’s reproductive health could all be improved with vitamin A, it might not be as easy as we’d like to make the problem go away. Having hard data corroborating the truth of this problem is exactly what is necessary in order to convince people that there should be interventions during pregnancy and lactation for these women. For the sake of both the mothers and the children, vitamin A supplementation could make all the difference.

Katz, J. (1995). Night Blindness Is Prevalent During Pregnancy and Lactation In Rural Nepal. In JN. Retrieved May 17, 2013, from