Three-quarters of women took avoidable health risks before getting pregnant, with more than half conceiving while overweight or obese, study says
- Almost 73% of English mums-to-be had not taken folic acid before conceiving
- Around 190 babies are born each year with symptoms such as muscle weakness
Three-quarters of pregnant women took avoidable health risks before expecting a child, a study has revealed.
Almost 73 per cent of English mums-to-be had not taken folic acid before conceiving, it found.
The findings show that public health messages about protecting babies from neural tube defects such as spina bifida have not reached most people.
And more than half of expectant mothers were overweight or obese around the time of conception, which raises the risk of having a premature baby, or it getting stuck in labour.
The results come from the first study of health behaviours in every woman in England who became pregnant and was registered by the NHS in a single year.
Three-quarters of pregnant women took avoidable health risks before expecting a child, a study has revealed (stock image)
In total, 74 per cent of expectant mothers had taken at least one preventable risk with their health, which also included smoking around the point of conception.
Researchers, who have so far compiled data for 2018-19 only, expect unhealthy behaviours in pregnant women to have remained at a similar rate and hope to publish the most recent statistics this year.
And they are calling for folic acid to be added to flour, as the Government has vowed, immediately – at a higher level than planned and not just to white flour.
Campaigners say it should be added to food as many women are still unaware of the need to take it ideally three months before they start trying for a baby.
Folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine to develop normally, avoiding problems such as neural tube defects. These problems, including spina bifida, affect around 1,000 pregnancies every year, with 80 per cent of babies lost as a result.
Around 190 babies are born each year with symptoms such as muscle weakness, paralysis and learning difficulties.
Researchers also want GPs and other health professionals to ask women about their plans for pregnancy during appointments and are calling for advertising campaigns to encourage women to start planning a family earlier, when possible.
The study reports that around a fifth of women who became pregnant in 2018-19 were over 35, which raises the risk of pregnancy complications.
Around 190 babies are born each year with symptoms such as muscle weakness, paralysis and learning difficulties (stock image)
Dr Danielle Schoenaker, lead author of the study from the University of Southampton, said: ‘We need to educate people in schools and through social media campaigns, raising awareness and encouraging women who are overweight before pregnancy to achieve a healthier weight when they are trying to conceive, if possible, and to take folic acid.’
Less than half of women thinking about getting pregnant or trying to conceive actually prepare for pregnancy, according to a study of 274 women. Meanwhile, an early-day motion, raised by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh and calling for pre-conception care to be available to everyone, is gathering signatures.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are analysing the responses to the consultation on amending the Bread and Flour Regulations – a step that could help women carry healthy foetuses and avoid neural tube defects – and will set out our response in the summer.’
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