Eating healthy, a tall order for pregnant women in Cuba – DIARIO DE CUBA

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Eating healthy in Cuba is a tall order, and for pregnant women this issue becomes even more pressing. With today’s critical shortages, even state-subsidized diets for pregnant women have ceased to be delivered. Uncertain maternal nutrition is, undoubtedly, one of the realities that influences Cuban women when deciding whether or not to have a child.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that proper maternal nutrition entails diets rich in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish and meat.

During pregnancy, deficient diets lacking in basic nutrients – such as iodine, iron, folate, calcium, and zinc – can cause anemia, preeclampsia, bleeding, and even the death of the mother. They can also lead to stillbirth, low to extremely low birth weights and growth retardation in babies.

Optimal nutrition is necessary even before pregnancy. Women need healthy diets in order to accumulate sufficient reserves for gestation. During the pregnancy stage mothers’ calorie and nutrient requirements increase, and it is essential to meet them to protect the health of both the mother and that of the baby during its gestation and throughout early childhood.

According to the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the ideal for a pregnant woman is to consume three to four servings of fresh fruits daily; four servings of whole grains, such as pasta, bread or semolina; drink between 1.5 and two liters of water; avoid the consumption of ultra-processed foods (hot dog or sausages, for example), fried foods, and those featuring fatty sauces; consume extra virgin olive oil; eat fresh vegetables, well washed or cooked with lunch and dinner; along with a variety of lean meats, oily fish, and eggs.
If mothers do not eat well during breastfeeding it is more difficult for them to replenish their nutrient reserves and meet their food needs.

In Cuba, however, amid widespread shortages and runaway inflation, eating a proper diet is impossible. Agricultural markets sell few fruits and vegetables, and at high prices. Protein, without much variety and almost limited to chicken, is sold almost exclusively by MSMEs, also at exorbitant prices, and dairy products are but a dream after the destruction of the island’s livestock sector.

For decades the Government has been selling subsidized milk via the ration book, reserved for children up to six years old, pregnant women, and some chronically ill people, but in recent months there has been such a shortage of the product, so young children, the sick and pregnant women have stopped consuming it. Faced with this crisis, in February the Government of Cuba was forced to request assistance through an official message conveyed to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Healthy food? “Right now we don’t even have any bread”

Mirita, a 25-year-old woman who is five months pregnant, drinks yogurt instead of the milk that she should be consuming, which she has received only intermittently in recent months. She lives in San Miguel del Padrón, Havana, and considers herself fortunate because on her father’s small farm they have two cows whose milk makes domestic consumption a possibility.

“Here we make yogurt, and with that I get some dairy into my diet. We have mangos and avocados, tomatoes and lettuce. It’s not much, but it’s more than what other families are able to get,” she told DIARIO DE CUBA.
Amanda is four months pregnant, and has been told to eat a balanced diet, but access to protein, fruits and vegetables entails an odyssey for her. “I eat what I can. Right now we don’t even have any bread,” she complained.

“The doctor told me that I need to gain weight, but finding enough food is more and more difficult. Between groceries and daily expenses, eating healthy is a fantasy,” said Sayli, a young pregnant woman residing in Caibarién, Villa Clara.

Yudelkis, a resident of the Havana municipality of Marianao, is also struggling to obtain all the necessary nutrients during her pregnancy. “I have to eat what I can afford to. The way things are, it’s not much, and of low quality, even though my husband and family scrap just to get me a decent meal. Between the two of us, we earn 8,000 pesos, and that’s not enough for anything,” she said.

Economist Omar Everleny Pérez recently estimated, in a very conservative analysis, that  the current cost of basic groceries for two people in Cuba is almost 20,000 pesos per month. The analyst took as maximum prices those indicated by the government’s Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI). It included a table with 17 products, and small quantities. To acquire them, one would need 19,975 pesos per month, far too much for the average Cuban, whose salary does not exceed 4,300 pesos.

At the end of last year independent journalist Alberto Arego published a mother’s complaint reflecting the situation of pregnant women in Cuba.

“Pregnant women have not been given milk or chicken since September. My daughter will give birth, God willing, next month, and thus far she has not been able to acquire any groceries via the ration book. We’re from the municipality of 10 de Octubre, Luyanó,” she said.

Several pregnant women stated in Arego’s post that they had not received any food either, or that it was practically “nothing.” They also reported that they had not been able to buy groceries, even eight months after the birth of their children.

Alina has just given birth, and has already decided that she will not do so again. “That’s it. This stage, which should be beautiful, has been traumatic. Nine months of nausea, with a pathetic diet, preeclampsia, an underweight baby, a home that is too small. And everything that comes with parenting.”

In 2023 some 90,300 births were registered in Cuba, the lowest figure in the last six decades. Public policies to address the situation of Cuba’s aging population are not working, such as the government’s promise to provide housing solutions for Cubans with three or more children.

Through the end of 2023 there were more than 62,600 mothers with three or more children in Cuba, according to the state newspaper Granma, which stressed that more than 4,222 of them were provided with employment, but this figure means that the actions implemented during the year offered a solution to less than 2% of these mothers.

In January an increase in maternity leave up to 15 months after the child’s birth was approved. The measure, however, does not provide more guarantees for mothers who are not employed, or for those who work in the private sector.

“I appreciate the possibility of now having a 15-month leave to take care of my newborn baby, but I’m considering working in the non-state sector soon,” Carmen told DIARIO DE CUBA. This woman, now close to 40 years old, has a salary of 5,600 pesos.

“It’s not among the lowest salaries, but it’s not enough for me to feed my family properly, not even with my husband’s salary. I breastfeed, and try to supplement my diet with the sacrifices of my 63-year-old mother and my husband, but eating healthy is something else,” she said.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

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