Diet in pregnancy, whether balanced and healthy or unhealthy; can have important implications for birth weight and later life health. In Wales, recent statistics indicate that 11.4% of live births were classified as high birth weight (HBW); with a general shift towards heavier babies. Despite this general increase in birthweight; 6.9% of live births classified as low birthweight (LBW), with no significant improvements in LBW prevalence.
A healthy diet in pregnancy significantly lowers the risk of giving birth to a small baby; finds a new study carried out in South Wales. “The findings suggest that by focusing support on encouraging healthier eating habits in identified areas of Wales; they could reduce the occurrence of lower birth weight babies and the health complications, helping to improve future outcomes for infants and their mothers.”
The first of its kind in Wales, and one of the first to use fully customized birth weight centiles; the new study offers a more accurate picture of infant birth weight, taking into account factors that may affect growth, such as maternal height, weight, ethnicity, gestational age, and fetal sex.
The low birth weight
Recent statistics indicate that almost 7 % of infants born in Wales are classified as having a low birth weight, with significant variations seen across health boards. These babies are at increased risk of newborn morbidity and mortality; adverse neurocognitive outcomes, and later-life health complications such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Mothers who deliver a lower birth weight baby also have an increased future risk of cardiovascular disease.
Using customized birth weight centiles, babies can be classified as ‘small for gestational age’; ‘average for gestational age’ or ‘large for gestational age.’ “To understand the impact of maternal diet on birth weight, they asked over 300 pregnant women in South Wales to complete a food frequency questionnaire the morning; prior to an elective cesarean section,” explained Professor John.
Health conscious dietary pattern
“They then analyzed these responses alongside additional data on birth and pregnancy outcomes extracted from the participants’ medical notes. “They discovered that those mothers who followed a ‘health conscious’ dietary pattern were significantly less likely to deliver a small-for-gestational-age baby.” The paper ‘The Grown in Wales Study: Examining dietary patterns; custom birthweight centiles and the risk of delivering a small-for-gestational-age (SGA); infant’ was published in PLOS ONE.
The aim of this study was to investigate dietary patterns during pregnancy and their association with the infant birthweight outcomes utilizing CBWC; in a cohort of women living in Wales. Two dietary patterns identified within this cohort: ‘Western’ and ‘Health conscious’.
Higher adherence to the ‘Health conscious’ dietary pattern was with higher maternal age; undertaking strenuous exercise and an income of £18–25,000, whereas lower adherence was with higher maternal BMI; lower educational attainment and an income of £25–43,000. Greater adherence to the ‘Health conscious’ dietary pattern was associated with increased CBWC, or higher birthweight; a significantly reduced risk of delivering an SGA infant.