Healthy diet before pregnancy significantly lowers risk of having preterm birth later

Preterm birth

Preterm birth (delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy) has been linked to significant short and long-term negative health effects. Almost 3 out of every 4 newborn deaths are linked to preterm delivery.

“Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant disease and death and occurs in approximately one in 10 pregnancies globally. Anything we can do to better understand the conditions that lead to preterm birth will be important in helping to improve survival and long-term health outcomes for children,” said Dr Jessica Grieger, the leader of the research team.

Study findings

The research team from the university’s Robinson Research Institute had looked at the eating habits of over 300 women in South Australia. They found that women who had diets consistently abundant in protein and fruits before conception had a lower chance of having a preterm birth. On the other hand, those whose diets were high in fats, sugars and takeaways were about 50% more at risk of preterm births.

“In our study, women who ate protein-rich foods including lean meats, fish and chicken, as well as fruit, whole grains and vegetables, had significantly lower risk of preterm birth. On the other hand, women who consumed mainly discretionary foods, such as takeaway, potato chips, cakes, biscuits, and other foods high in saturated fat and sugar were more likely to have babies born preterm,” said Dr Grieger.

Diet during pregnancy important too

Of course, what a pregnant lady eats during pregnancy is also very important. Another study published earlier in 2014 in the British Medical Journal had revealed that pregnant ladies who consumed a “prudent” diet containing good amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and who drank water had a markedly lower risk of preterm delivery. The researchers from Iceland, Norway and Sweden also found that a “traditional” diet of boiled potatoes, cooked vegetables and fish was associated with significantly reduced risk as well.

“It is important to consume a healthy diet before as well as during pregnancy to support the best outcomes for the mum and baby,” added Dr Grieger.

The bottom line

A woman who wishes to have a healthy pregnancy and to give birth to a healthy child needs to consume a healthy diet. This applies to both during and before pregnancy. A well-balanced and varied diet containing lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, healthy protein and water is recommended. At the same time, the consumption of high-fat, sugary and processed food should be cut down, if not ceased altogether. Organic foods are preferable, while non-organic produce should be washed to remove toxic chemical residues.

Another key point — it is never too late to make positive dietary changes.

“Diet is an important risk factor that can be modified. It is never too late to make a positive change. We hope our work will help promote a healthy diet before and during pregnancy. This will help to reduce the number of neonatal deaths and improve the overall health of children,” Dr Grieger also said.

Staying Healthy During Pregnancy

If you’re thinking about getting pregnant — or if you already are — you probably know some of the basics about taking care of yourself and the baby. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Get your rest. Here are more tips, from taking vitamins to what to do with the kitty litter, that can help ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Take a Prenatal Vitamin
Even when you’re still trying to conceive, it’s smart to start taking prenatal vitamins. Your baby’s neural cord, which becomes the brain and spinal cord, develops within the first month of pregnancy, so it’s important you get essential nutrients, like folic acid, calcium, and iron, from the very start.

Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter at most drug stores, or you can get them by prescription from your doctor. If taking them makes you feel queasy, try taking them at night or with a light snack. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy afterward can help, too.

Exercise
Staying active is a must for most moms to be. Regular exercise will help you control your weight, improve circulation, boost your mood, and help you sleep better. Plus, getting into an exercise habit now will help you set a good example for your child after she’s born.

Pilates, yoga, swimming, and walking are all great activities for most pregnant women, but be sure to check with your doctor first before starting any exercise program. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Listen to your body, though, and don’t overdo it.

Write a Birth Plan
Determined to have a doula? Counting on that epidural? Write down your wishes and give a copy to everyone involved with the delivery. According to the American Pregnancy Association, here are some things to consider when writing your birth plan:

– Who you want present, including children or siblings of the baby
– Procedures you want to avoid
– What positions you prefer for labor and delivery
– Special clothing you’d like to wear
– Whether you want music or a special focal point
– Whether you want pain medications, and what kind
– What to do if complications arise

Educate Yourself
Even if this isn’t your first baby, attending a childbirth class will help you feel more prepared for delivery. Not only will you have the chance to learn more about childbirth and infant care, but you can ask specific questions and voice any concerns. You’ll also become more acquainted with the facility and its staff.

Now is also a good time to brush up on your family’s medical history. Talk to your doctor about problems with past pregnancies, and report any family incidences of birth defects.

Practice Kegels
Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support your bladder, bowels, and uterus. Done correctly, this simple exercise can help make your delivery easier and prevent problems later with incontinence. The best part: No one can tell you’re doing them, so you can practice kegels in the car, while you’re sitting at your desk, or even standing in line at the grocery store. Here’s how to do them right:

– Practice squeezing as though you’re stopping the flow of urine when you use the bathroom.
– Hold for three seconds, then relax for three.
– Repeat 10 times.

Change Up Chores
Even everyday tasks like scrubbing the bathroom or cleaning up after pets can become risky when you’re pregnant. Exposure to toxic chemicals, lifting heavy objects, or coming in contact with bacteria can harm you and your baby. Here are some things to (hooray!) take off your to-do-list:

– Heavy lifting
– Climbing on stepstools or ladders
– Changing kitty litter (to avoid toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite which cats can carry)
– Using harsh chemicals
– Standing for long periods of time, especially near a hot stove

Also, wear gloves if you’re working in the yard where cats may have been, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.