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Women doing too little, too late to get healthy when having a baby, experts say

ABC Health logoABC Health 17/04/2018
a group of people standing next to a woman © Provided by ABC Health

Women who want to get pregnant need to lose weight first, or they risk their future child's health, experts say.

A study published today in The Lancet medical journal found obesity and poor nutrition were "rife" among women of child-bearing age, and efforts to curb diet during pregnancy were too little, too late.

The international study included data on women aged from 18 to 42. Statistics from Australia showed only 10 per cent of Australian women ate what they should.

"Poor nutrition and obesity are rife among women of reproductive age, and differences between high-income and low-income countries have become less distinct, with typical diets falling far short of nutritional recommendations in both settings and especially among adolescents," the study found.

One of the report's authors, Gita Mishra from the Australian Women's Health Study, said while women quit smoking and stopped drinking in the lead-up to falling pregnant, few addressed their weight.

She said poor nutrition and weight issues risked a more difficult pregnancy and poorer birth outcomes.

"Women who lost weight before conception lowered their risks of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, pre-term birth and stillbirth," Professor Mishra said.

"For the infant it may mean pre-term birth, low birthweight, even congenital abnormalities.

"We need to shift our public health focus from during and after pregnancy, to include pre-pregnancy, before conception."

Yoga teacher Suzanne Swan prepared for her pregnancies with regular yoga sessions, and shares what she has learned in classes in Brisbane.

"I think we just think 'We need to get pregnant and that's it' — there's actually a lot more to getting pregnant than just making the decision," she said.

"There are some preparation we can prioritise in our lifestyles and make some changes.

"Then that sets a really good foundation for your baby's health in the future."

Mum-to-be Jess Peters was active before falling pregnant and said it made sense that her health was crucial to a healthy pregnancy and baby.

"We kind of planned to fall pregnant so I put a bit of effort into not drinking, and stop drinking coffee and being healthy and fit, probably a bit for the baby, but also a bit selfishly as well, I wanted to feel healthy during pregnancy."

The Lancet paper titled Before the Beginning called for a sharper focus on preconception to address the problem.

"Alongside continued efforts to reduce smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity in the population, we call for heightened awareness of preconception health, particularly regarding diet and nutrition," the report said.

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