Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Seasonality of antenatal care attendance, maternal dietary intake, and fetal growth in the VHEMBE birth cohort, South Africa

  • Author(s): Fahey, Carolyn A
  • Chevrier, Jonathan
  • Crause, Madelein
  • Obida, Muvhulawa
  • Bornman, Riana
  • Eskenazi, Brenda
  • et al.

Published Web Location
No data is associated with this publication.


Seasonality of food availability, physical activity, and infections commonly occurs within rural communities in low and middle-income countries with distinct rainy seasons. To better understand the implications of these regularly occurring environmental stressors for maternal and child health, this study examined seasonal variation in nutrition and health care access of pregnant women and infants in rural South Africa.


We analyzed data from the Venda Health Examination of Mothers, Babies and their Environment (VHEMBE) birth cohort study of 752 mother-infant pairs recruited at delivery from August 2012 to December 2013 in the Vhembe District of Limpopo Province, the northernmost region of South Africa. We used truncated Fourier series regression to assess seasonality of antenatal care (ANC) attendance, dietary intake, and birth size. We additionally regressed ANC attendance on daily rainfall values. Models included adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics.


Maternal ANC attendance, dietary composition, and infant birth size exhibited significant seasonal variation in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Adequate frequency of ANC attendance during pregnancy (≥ 4 visits) was highest among women delivering during the gardening season and lowest during the lean (rainy) season. High rainfall during the third trimester was also negatively associated with adequate ANC attendance (adjusted OR = 0.59, 95% CI: 0.40, 0.86). Carbohydrate intake declined during the harvest season and increased during the vegetable gardening and lean seasons, while fat intake followed the opposite trend. Infant birth weight, length, and head circumference z-scores peaked following the gardening season and were lowest after the harvest season. Maternal protein intake and ANC ≤ 12 weeks did not significantly vary by season or rainfall.


Seasonal patterns were apparent in ANC utilization, dietary intake, and fetal growth in rural South Africa. Interventions to promote maternal and child health in similar settings should consider seasonal factors.

Item not freely available? Link broken?
Report a problem accessing this item