The research, conducted by Adelaide University, has for the first time confirmed that women who eat a poor diet before they become pregnant are around 50% more likely to have a preterm birth than those on a healthy diet.
First of its kind
The team investigated the dietary patterns of more than 300 South Australian women to better understand their eating habits before pregnancy.
It's the first study of its kind to assess women's diet prior to conception and its association with outcomes at birth.
The results, published in The Journal of Nutrition, show that women who consistently ate a diet high in protein and fruit prior to becoming pregnant were less likely to have a preterm birth, while those who consistently ate high fat and sugar foods and takeaway were about 50% more likely to have a preterm birth.
"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 paper’s lead author.
"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.”
Babies born prematurely are more likely to suffer cerebral palsy, difficulties in breathing, deafness and blindness. Most of these problems are associated in babies born after less than 30 weeks’ gestation.
“Late premature” babies, which are born after 32 to 38 weeks’ gestation, are still at risk of needing antibiotics, having breathing problems and suffering from low blood sugar, and may require admission to intensive care, other studies have found.