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Healthy Diet, Healthy Baby

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Healthy Diet, Healthy Baby

Wellington, Oct 6 NZPA - A pre-pregnancy diet rich in green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit could reduce the risk of a baby being born underweight and undernourished by up to 50 percent, a new study shows.

The Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (Scope) study of pregnant women from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom found a healthy diet prior to conception reduced the risk of small for gestational age (SGA) babies in women with normal blood pressure.

Women who consumed three or more portions of vegetables a day were found to be 50 percent less likely to have an SGA baby, while women who consumed less than one portion of fruit per week were 50 percent more likely to have an SGA baby.

Those with a high intake of oily fish -- three or more servings per week -- showed a 60 percent reduction in SGA infants.

Auckland University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Professor Lesley McCowan said the study of more than 3500 pregnant women reinforced the importance of eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy.

"Pregnancy, and where possible prior to the pregnancy, may well be the ideal times to encourage women to adopt a healthy diet, improve their intake of important nutrients, and make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of obesity," she said.

But while nutrients found in fruit and vegetable could protect both mother and foetus, woman who ate such foods were also likely to lead healthier lifestyles in general, she said.

The study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, aimed to develop screening tests for SGA, pre-eclampsia, and spontaneous preterm births.

Dr McCowan said SGA infants were more likely to be stillborn or suffer complications.

"Less than one third of these at-risk babies are identified before birth in current antenatal practice. Improved identification of these vulnerable infants, by screening early in pregnancy, therefore has the potential to reduce stillbirths and complications in the newborn period," she said.

"In the Scope study, our findings show that the risk factors for the majority group of SGA infants with mothers with normal blood pressure included: low fruit intake (less than weekly) in the three months before pregnancy, cigarette smoking, increasing maternal age, daily vigorous exercise, being a tertiary student, and the pregnant woman being born with a low birth weight herself."

At 15 weeks gestation, smoking was found to increase the risk of SGA by 30-60 percent for every five cigarettes smoked per day.

Previous studies have shown the risk of SGA due to smoking could be avoided completely if the mother stopped smoking before 15 weeks.

Dr McCowan said risk factors for SGA infants in mothers with high blood pressure included conception by in vitro fertilisation and previous early pregnancy loss.

BJOG editor Philip Steer said pregnant woman needed to eat fewer takeaways and more fresh fruit and vegetables.

"This study emphasises the importance of good diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to resist the temptations of 'junk' food," he said.

"If more women can be persuaded to have a better diet during pregnancy, using the motivation of optimising their baby's health, then as they are commonly in charge of the family diet, we could improve the health of the whole population."

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