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Study links pre-conception healthy lifestyle to increased odds of problem-free pregnancy

Nov. 22, 2013

New research links good health and a healthy lifestyle before becoming pregnant with greater likelihood of having an uncomplicated pregnancy.

The study found that certain health factors, habits and behaviours were linked to increased odds of a problem-free pregnancy. These included having a healthy body weight and normal blood pressure, eating a lot of fruit, not misusing drugs, and being employed.

An international team led by researchers at King’s College London recruited 5,628 women who were pregnant with their first child in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland. None of the women had any known pre-existing risk factors for pregnancy complications.

Most existing research looking at pregnancy outcomes has studied risk factors for complications, such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and preterm birth. This study approached the research from the other direction, looking at factors that were linked to healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies. The researchers collected information about the participants’ health, medical history, lifestyle, socioeconomic status and mental health factors, in addition to obstetric and gynecological data.

Of the study participants, 3,452 women (61.3 per cent) had uncomplicated pregnancies. That means they had normal blood pressure, no complications, delivered after 37 weeks gestation, and the baby was of normal size for gestational age.

Some of the most common complications included gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, and having a small-for-gestational-age baby.

The researchers identified several factors that were linked to either increased or decreased likelihood of a problem-free pregnancy.

Factors that were linked to a higher likelihood of uncomplicated pregnancy included eating three or more pieces of fruit per day in the month before conception, and having a job at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Factors that were linked to a lower likelihood of having a normal pregnancy included drug misuse (binge-drinking or use of illicit drugs) in the first trimester, as well as body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure factors. Odds of a problem-free pregnancy decreased as BMI and blood pressure increased.

Low socioeconomic status and certain pre-existing medical factors – such as a family history of blood pressure problems in pregnancy – were also linked to decreased likelihood of uncomplicated pregnancy.

The study authors note that many of the factors identified by the study are things that women may be able to improve upon before becoming pregnant. These include BMI, blood pressure, diet and drug misuse.

The study was published in BMJ on Nov. 21, 2013.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital