Nutrition Linked to Baby's Early Birth

Diet during pregnancy linked to risk of delivering preterm birth

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and similarly healthy foods are recommended for everyone, but especially for pregnant women. Following that advice may reduce the risk of a baby's early arrival.

A recent study found that women who ate a balanced diet with these foods were less likely to deliver their babies early compared to women eating a less healthy diet.

The less healthy diet included salty and sweet snacks, processed meats and desserts.

Another option that had lower preterm birth rates than the less healthy diet was a traditional Swedish diet of mostly fish and potatoes.

"Discuss your pregnancy diet with your OB/GYN."

This study, led by Linda Englund-Ogge, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden, looked at whether a pregnant woman's diet might influence her risk of giving birth early.

The researchers gave a diet questionnaire to 66,000 Swedish pregnant women who did not have diabetes.

The diets of these women were classified as one of three types:

  • "Prudent" diets included drinking a lot of water and eating vegetables, fruits, oils, whole grain cereals and fiber-rich bread.
  • "Western" diets included eating salty and sweet snacks, desserts, white bread and processed meat.
  • "Traditional" diets included eating primarily potatoes and fish.

Then the researchers calculated the women's risk of delivering a baby preterm, or before the baby is due.

In their calculations, these researchers made adjustments to take into account other differences between the women, including the women's weight, marital status, previous pregnancies, history of smoking, education and household income.

They also took into account the women's physical activity during pregnancy, whether they had had a previous preterm birth, whether they were around secondhand smoke, their total caloric intake and whether they experienced nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

Among the total group of women, 5.3 percent gave birth early.

The results revealed that women who ate a "prudent" or "traditional" diet were less likely to give birth to their children early than women following a "Western" diet.

For example, 5.7 percent of the women scoring in the lowest third of prudent diets (those eating the least amount of prudent diet foods) had preterm birth — a rate above that of the women as a whole.

There were similarly high rates found among those eating the most Western-diet foods.

In other words, a higher proportion of women eating less prudent diet foods and more Western diet foods had preterm birth than those eating more prudent or traditional diet foods.

Women in the highest third of eating a prudent diet were 14 percent less likely to have a preterm birth than women eating in the lowest third of the prudent diet.

The authors emphasized that this study could not show that a "Western"-style diet caused preterm birth. Instead, the two appeared linked, and there may be other factors at play.

Regardless, the authors said the findings show the importance of following current "dietary advice for pregnant women to eat a balanced diet with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish."

"Our results indicate that increasing the intake of foods associated with a prudent dietary pattern is more important than totally excluding processed food, fast food, junk food and snacks," they wrote.

According to Andre Hall, MD, an OBGYN at Birth and Women's Care, PA in Fayetteville, NC, proper nutrition, more than anything else, is the cornerstone of a healthy pregnancy.

"Pregnant women should work hard to eat a balanced diet in order to maintain adequate growth and development of their unborn child," Dr. Hall said. "Pregnancies that are nutritionally deficient are at risk of higher infant morbidity and mortality, which may begin with a preterm delivery."

This study was published March 4 in the journal BMJ. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the Freemasons Directorate Board for Children, the Adlerbertska Foundation, the Hjalmar Svensson Foundation, the Norwegian Research Council, the Jane and Dan Olsson Foundation, the Swedish Medical Society, the Norwegian Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Research, the National Institutes of Health (US), the Norwegian Research Council/FUGE and grants from the Swedish government.

Review Date: 
March 4, 2014
Last Updated:
March 31, 2014