EXPERTS have identified the lifestyle factors that mean women are more likely to have a normal, healthy pregnancy.
Measures such as eating three pieces of fruit a day and controlling blood pressure before and during pregnancy were found to cut the chances of women suffering serious complications.
The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, believe following the advice could help thousands more women avoid problems which put themselves and their babies at risk.
Scientists from King’s College London monitored more than 5,600 first-time mothers from the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland to try to identify the factors which increased their chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
The researchers found that a healthy diet, including a high intake of fruit – at least three pieces a day – in the month leading up to conception, led to a higher chance the woman would have an uncomplicated pregnancy.
They also discovered that a healthy body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight in relation to height – and normal blood pressure boosted the chance there would be fewer problems, such as the condition pre-eclampsia, which can cause serious complications for mother and baby.
The study also found that women who were in paid work when they were 15 weeks pregnant were also less likely to experience problems.
This could be because these women are less likely to abuse drugs and could be more likely to have an income which allows them to eat more healthily, the researchers suggested.
While calling for further studies, the researchers said 24,674 more women a year in the UK could have an uncomplicated pregnancy if high blood pressure was brought under control by taking action to control weight and eat a healthy diet.
Overall, 61 per cent of the women in the study had an uncomplicated pregnancy. The most common reasons for a complicated pregnancy in the mother were high blood pressure (8 per cent) and pre-eclampsia (5 per cent). In babies, the issues were being small for gestational age (11 per cent) and premature birth (4 per cent).
Previous research has highlighted concerns about a large number of women in Scotland being at risk due to obesity during pregnancy.
One study also suggested that children born to obese mothers were 35 per cent more likely to die before the age of 55 compared to other offspring.
Meanwhile, other research has found that complications linked to obesity during pregnancy mean hundreds of pounds are added to the cost of such births for the NHS in Scotland.
Dr Lucy Chappell, lead author from the division of women’s health at King’s College London, said: “We have always known that a mother’s general health is important, but until now we did not know the specific factors that could be associated with a normal pregnancy.
“Although this is an early study, these findings suggest that by leading a healthy lifestyle both before and during pregnancy – including eating lots of fruit and maintaining a healthy BMI – it could be possible for women to increase the likelihood of experiencing an uncomplicated pregnancy.
“More research needs to be done to explore these associations further but I hope that this research will help inform both public health policy-makers and healthcare professionals giving advice to pregnant women and those thinking of having a baby.”
Jane Brewin, chief executive of baby charity Tommy’s, said: “This exciting research shows that simple steps such as eating well could help more women to have a trouble-free pregnancy.”