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.
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.