By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – Many who are pregnant or trying to conceive have poor diets that could increase their risk for pregnancy complications, a research review suggests.

The analysis of results from 18 previously published studies of pregnancy and preconception diet quality found that women generally didn’t consume the minimum recommended amount of vegetables, grains, folate, iron or calcium. Many pregnant women also get too many calories from fat, the research showed.

“For preconceptual and pregnancy health, vegetables are an important source of folate, and cereal grains a valuable source of folate and iron,” said lead study author Cherie Caut of Endeavour College of Natural Health in Queensland, Australia.

Folate and iron help prevent neural tube defects in babies, and also reduce the potential for anemia during pregnancy or low birthweight infants, Caut said by . Calcium helps protect against preeclampsia, a type of dangerously high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy.

“Excess dietary fat intake may potentially contribute to unhealthy maternal weight gain,” Caut added. “The impact of this weight gain for both the mother and infant can be considerable, with maternal obesity shown to be associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, macrosomia (too-large babies), congenital abnormalities, stillbirth, low birthweight infants and maternal mortality.”

Women generally got enough dairy and fruit during pregnancy, the researchers report in Maternal & Child Nutrition. And during the months right before conception, women generally got enough dairy and more than enough protein.

Women may be more likely to follow dietary guidelines when they are more affluent, don’t smoke, are older, and regularly exercise, the study also found.

A source of dietary information for pregnant women is available from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (here:

More than half of the studies in the analysis were done in Australia, China and India; the rest were from Europe, Canada, Japan and Pakistan. All of the studies measured women’s’ adherence to national dietary guidelines, not international guidelines, the study authors note. And none looked at men’s pre-conception diet quality.

The studies used a wide variety of methods to assess diet quality, making it hard to draw broad conclusions by analyzing pooled data.

The new analysis wasn’t to whether or how eating habits might directly impact health outcomes for women or babies.

It’s possible that more women would follow guidelines if they understood the recommendations and had an easy time accessing and affording groceries, the researchers note.

“Concordance with these guidelines should provide some assurance that energy, macronutrient and micronutrient intake are adequate to support fertility, pregnancy and positive birth outcomes, as well as the future health of offspring,” Caut said. “The findings from this review indicate that women both in the preconception period and throughout pregnancy, may be falling of targets stipulated in dietary guidelines and nutrient recommendations.”

SOURCE: Maternal & Child Nutrition, online December 2, 2019.


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