Shifting dietary guidelines for pregnancy

By / 23rd of May, 2014

A WORLD-FIRST Adelaide study has found that pregnant women who consume a diet high in high fat, sugar and takeaway foods before their baby was conceived have a 50% higher chance of delivering that infant prematurely.

The results suggest that recommendations on food and nutrient intake for pregnant women may need to be shifted to include the period before conception takes place.

“We hope our work will help promote a healthy diet before pregnancy. Education and counseling will be important in supporting women to do this.” 

“There’s a lot of guidance about diet during pregnancy, including nutrient reference data and guidelines which recommend numbers of servings of particular type of food,” says lead research Dr Jessica Greiger, from the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide.

“However in terms of pre-conception and planning a pregnancy, the information is very limited. Folate and iodine supplementation, and cutting back on alcohol are about all we have at the moment.”

“We hope our work will help promote a healthy diet before pregnancy. Education and counseling will be important in supporting women to do this.”

The study results show that diets rich in protein and fruit in the year leading up to pregnancy are associated with protection against premature delivery. The study did not report any association between women consuming a vegetarian diet (consisting of vegetables, legumes and whole grains) and risk of preterm birth.

“In the future, we can examine this in more detail by performing dietary intervention studies, and repeating the research with a larger group of women,” said Dr Greiger. 

Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant disease and death, occurring in about 1/10 pregnancies globally. Countries with the greatest number of preterm births are India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia and the USA.

As well as being emotionally distressing for parents and the child, preterm birth presents a high financial cost to society. Figures from the USA suggest that each preterm birth costs more than 12 times that of a full term delivery. 

Key contacts

Dr Jessica Greiger Lead Researcher Robinson Research Institute
61 466 090 242 jessica.greiger@adelaide.edu.au www.adelaide.edu.au