Diet puts pregnant women at risk

MUMS-to-be are risking their health and that of their babies by not eating enough of the right foods.

Pregnant women are eating fewer calories and taking less iron and fibre than the recommended amounts for non-pregnant women, says a study by nutritionists at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The study is the first to track women’s daily diets throughout pregnancy from conception to birth.

To be published in the Journal of Maternal and Child Nutrition, it found the average daily calorie intake of mums-to-be was 1,907, significantly lower than the 2,140 calories recommended during pregnancy, and even below the 1,940 advised for women out of pregnancy.

Dietary intake of fibre (including supplements) was 4g below the 18g recommended daily intake, while iron intake was 2.3milligrams (mg) below the 14.8mg daily recommended dosage. And although women are taking more folate (folic acid) than recommended out of pregnancy (268 micrograms), this is still below the 300 micrograms recommended in pregnancy.

Dr Emma Derbyshire, a researcher in human nutrition, who led the study of 100 women, said: “The evidence is worrying and suggests some women are still more focused on not gaining weight than on properly nourishing themselves and their babies.”

“Insufficient energy intake can result in low birth-weight infants, insufficient gestational weight gain and failure to produce milk after birth.”

Lack of iron, she says, can result in anaemia during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, while a failure to consume enough folate can result in neural tube defects in babies.

The study also looked at how women had changed their dietary habits and found that 79% avoided alcohol, 53% avoided tea and coffee, 44% drank more water, 40% increased their fruit and vegetable consumption and 18% took more fibre.

Added Dr Derbyshire: “Some health messages are obviously getting through, particularly about alcohol and hot beverages, but women are forgetting to replace these liquids with sufficient water intake.”

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Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD