Expectant mothers eat ‘wrong diet’

Few Irish expectant mothers are eating the right diet during pregnancy, according to a new study.

The study, which measured food and drink intakes of women attending the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, found that many mums-to-be did not meet the national guidelines for nutrition in pregnancy.

It found nine out of ten pregnant women ate too much saturated fat, nearly all didn’t consume enough vitamin D, one in three fail to take the recommended folic acid supplement and a fifth don’t take enough iron.

Co-author of the study, dietitian Dr Dan Mc Cartney, said it is the first study of its kind in Ireland.

“We were surprised at the broad cross-section of nutrients that were being consumed at inadequate levels”, said the lecturer in human nutrition and dietetics at Dublin Institute of Technology.

“We had a fair idea we would see low iron and low Vitamin D intakes but the low calcium and low folate intake were less expected.” The study noted that there was a “large body of evidence linking nutritional deficits in utero and in early life to disease in adulthood”.

It said: “Low iron status in pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight and impaired cognitive development, while low maternal vitamin B12 status has been linked with increased risk of small-for-gestational-age infants and insulin resistance in childhood.”

The most striking finding of the new Irish study was 99% of women did not meet the national recommendation for vitamin D intakes — which is generally low in the Irish population due to lack of sunlight — during pregnancy.

“Low vitamin D status has been associated with a wide range of adverse maternal and offspring health outcomes such as impaired glucose tolerance, low birth weight and poor foetal skeletal development”, said the study which was published in the Journal of Public Health.

It also found intakes of folate, calcium and iron below recommended levels are of “major concern”.

Only one in three women in the study achieved the recommended intake of folic acid a day.

This is of concern because lack of folic acid is linked to neural tube defects — mainly spina bifida and anencephaly, a condition where the foetus is missing parts of the brain and skull — which rose in Ireland in recent years.

The study on women attending the Coombe Hospital found nearly all women only begin folic acid supplementation at some stage during pregnancy but not the recommended 12 weeks before conception.

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