Eating healthily and exercising regularly can help pregnant women avoid gestational diabetes and requiring a caesarian section, according to a new study.
The findings, which have been published in the BMJ, showed eating a healthy diet and exercising lowered a pregnant woman’s weight, on average, by 0.7 kg. The odds of them requiring a caesarean section were cut by about 10 per cent.
Around 25 per cent of births in the UK are caesarian section, which can lead to risks such as infections for the mother and breathing difficulties for the baby.
The results came from a meta-analysis reviewing more than 12,000 women who had previously been involved in trials across 16 countries.
Scientists from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) compared results from trials involving different diet and exercise interventions.
The lifestyle changes were associated with a 24 per cent reduction in diabetes in pregnancy. Over one in 10 women experience gestational diabetes, a condition that specifically develops during pregnancy if the body becomes resistant to insulin.
Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from QMUL’s Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health said: “For every 40 mothers who follow a healthy diet and [get] moderate exercise, one less woman will end up with a caesarean section.
“Often with interventions like these, certain groups benefit more than others, but we’ve shown that diet and physical activity has a beneficial effect across all groups, irrespective of your Body Mass Index (BMI), age or ethnicity; so these interventions have the potential to benefit a huge number of people.”
Thangaratinam says the findings are important because it is often thought that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise because it might harm the baby.
“We show that the babies are not affected by physical activity or dieting, and that there are additional benefits including a reduction in maternal weight gain, diabetes in pregnancy, and the risk of requiring a caesarean section.
“This should be part of routine advice in pregnancy, given by practitioners as well as midwives. Now that we’re able to link the advice to why it’s beneficial for mothers-to-be, we hope mothers are more likely to adopt these lifestyle changes.”
Despite the positive effects of healthy eating and physical activity, there was no real evidence to suggest the interventions helped avoid stillbirth, underweight or overweight births, or admission to a neonatal intensive care unit.