A healthy diet packed with fruit, vegetables, and omega-3 rich fish could help to reduce the risk of pre-term babies, according to new research.
The large-scale population study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), reports that women with the 'healthiest' pregnancy diet had a roughly 15% lower risk of preterm delivery compared with those with the most unhealthy diet. The correlation remained after controlling for ten other known risk factors for preterm delivery.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sahlgrenska University Hospital and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the prospective cohort study followed 66,000 pregnant women throughout pregnancy in order to assess how food and drink intake related to measures of health in their babies.
Led by Linda Englund-Ögge, the team found suggestions that increasing the intake of foods associated with a ‘healthy’ or ‘prudent’ dietary pattern may be more important than totally excluding ‘unhealthy’ processed foods, fast foods, junk foods, and snacks.
“Pregnant women have many reasons to choose a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grain products and some types of fish, but this is the first time we can statistically link healthy eating habits to reduced risk of preterm delivery,” said Englund-Ögge.
“Although these findings cannot establish causality, they support dietary advice to pregnant women to eat a balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish and to drink water,” concluded the team.
The 66,000 participants completed a scientifically evaluated questionnaire about what they had been eating and drinking since becoming pregnant. This data was used in conjunction with information about the women's general lifestyle – such as level of education, living conditions, income, weight, physical activity, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, number of children and medical factors such as history of preterm delivery.
“We found that an overall “prudent” dietary pattern was associated with a reduced risk of preterm delivery, especially in the subgroups of late preterm delivery and spontaneous preterm delivery and in nulliparous women,” the researchers found.
“We also found a significantly reduced risk of preterm delivery for the “traditional” dietary pattern. These findings are important, as prevention of preterm delivery is of major importance in modern obstetrics.”
The team added that no independent association was found between the ‘Western’ dietary pattern and preterm delivery, “indicating that low adherence to a prudent pattern is a stronger indicator of unhealthy dietary behaviour than intake of processed food, fast food, junk food, and snacks.”
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1136/bmj.g1446
“Maternal dietary patterns and preterm delivery: results from large prospective cohort study”
Authors: Linda Englund-Ögge, Anne Lise Brantsæter, et al