Pregnant women who drink water and eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereal could reduce their chance of premature birth, research suggests.
Experts found that women who enjoyed such a diet, also rich in oils, whole grain bread and poultry, were less likely to give birth before 37 weeks.
Those women who followed a different, more “traditional” diet − of foods such as potatoes, cooked vegetables and fish − could also cut their risk.
“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”
Writing online in the British Medical Journal, experts studied data for 66,000 pregnant women, of which 3,505 (5.3%) delivered their babies early.
They found that women who followed the first “prudent” diet rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables had around a 12% reduced risk of premature delivery, especially if they were having their first baby, compared to other women.
Risks were also cut by around 9% for those who favoured the more “traditional” diet.
There was no link found between premature birth and women eating a “Western-style” diet of salty and sweet snacks, white bread, desserts and processed meats.
The authors, from hospitals and public health organisations in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, said: “Although these findings cannot establish causality, they support dietary advice to pregnant women to eat a balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish and to drink water.
“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.”
In an accompanying editorial, Professor Lucilla Poston at King’s College London, said other studies had proposed the benefit of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables in preventing premature birth.
“This should also be a public health message for women about healthy eating whether they are pregnant or not”
Jane Munro, quality and audit development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “These are welcome and interesting findings that support the advice given to pregnant women by midwives about their diet.
“This study is a useful addition to the evidence that healthy eating and ensuring women drink enough water can have a significant impact and help to reduce the potentially serious problem of pre-term birth,” she said.
“This should also be a public health message for women about healthy eating whether they are pregnant or not,” she added.
- Read the full study paper on British Medical Journal