By: Amanda Belo
Ensuring that mother and baby receive the nutrients they need for strong, healthy bodies has been long supported, so it is widely known that nutrition and supplementation are key factors in a healthy pregnancy. However, a new study concluded that healthy, preventative nutritional measures prior to conception contribute to a successful pregnancy and a healthy child, even going so far as to begin preparing for future parenthood in adolescence!
According to a press release from Newcastle University (U.K.), researchers suggest that behavior change interventions, supplementation, and fortification could lead to preconception health improvements.
“Waiting until you know that you are pregnant may be too late to benefit from improving your diet, stopping smoking and becoming more active,” stated co-author Dr. John Mathers of the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University in the release. “For the health of the next generation, prospective mothers and fathers should start early, eat a healthier diet with lots of vegetables and fruit and avoid putting on weight.”
The study found that women of reproductive age are ill prepared nutritionally for pregnancy (e.g. eating nutrient rich foods like fruits and vegetables), including being deficient in recommended intakes for iron and folate in pregnant women. Additionally, both women and men should strive for avoiding excessive weight gain if they are looking to conceive now or in the future. Researchers found that obesity in both men and women can lead to health complications and chronic diseases for the themselves and the baby in the future.
Even further, a new preconception period was suggested by researchers. The new period is defined in terms of biological, individual and public health standards:
- Biologically, as the days to weeks before and after fertilization
- Individually – as the weeks or months when a woman or couple decides to have a child
- Public health level – as the months or years needed to address preconception risk factors before pregnancy.
Surprisingly few interventions have been made for preconception diet and lifestyle as compared to prenatal diet and lifestyle. Since planning for pregnancy comes with a mixed pattern of health-related behaviors before conception, the newly proposed definitions of the preconception period allow for a sharper focus on intervention before conception is needed to improve maternal and child health.
Alongside continued efforts to reduce lifestyle-related health concerns such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity in the population, heightened awareness of preconception health, particularly regarding diet and nutrition, are going to be extremely important.
- Newcastle University. (2018, April 16). Parents’ diet and lifestyle before conception key for child’s health [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2018/04/parentsdietonoffspring/
- Stephenson, J. S., Heslehurst, N., Hall, J., Schoenaker, D., Hutchinson, J., Cade, J. E., … Mishra, G. D. (2018, April 16) Before the beginning: nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period and its importance for future health. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/action/showFullTextImages?pii=S0140-6736%2818%2930311-8