Watch CBSN Live

Health Guidelines Ignored Before Pregnancy

Few women follow lifestyle and nutritional guidelines
before becoming pregnant , even when pregnancy is
contemplated to some degree, a new study shows.

Researchers at the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre at the University of
Southampton wanted to find out whether women follow such guidelines before
becoming pregnant, since good health is important before pregnancy.

They interviewed 12,445 non-pregnant women 20 to 34, obtaining information
on diet , physical
activity , and whether they smoked, drank alcohol, or used nutritional supplements .

A total of 238 became pregnant within three months of being interviewed;
researchers compared them with those who didn't become pregnant.

Among the women who became pregnant, 44% had taken any folic
acid supplements in the three months before the interview; only 5.5% had
taken 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Daily folic acid intake of 400
micrograms is recommended to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina

When pregnant women were interviewed at 11 weeks of gestation, 93% reported
taking some folic acid and 12% reported taking at least 400 micrograms a day
over the previous three months.

Although the women who became pregnant were slightly less likely to smoke
than those who did not become pregnant, the difference was not significant.

Diet and Exercise

Women in both groups were equally likely to get five or more portions of
vegetables and fruit per day (53%); a smaller percentage of those who became
pregnant had engaged in any strenuous exercise within the three months prior to
their interviews compared to the women who didn't get pregnant.

When interviewed before pregnancy, 23% of the 238 women who became pregnant
said they did not expect to try to become pregnant in the following year.

In this "unplanned" group, only one who became pregnant complied
with the alcohol and folic acid recommendations.

However, among those thought to be at least contemplating pregnancy, six
women had complied.

"Our data show limited evidence of changes in health behaviors before
pregnancy," the researchers write, issuing a call for greater publicity
promoting pre-pregnancy guidelines. "Substantial rates of unplanned
pregnancies mean that greater efforts are needed to improve the nutrition and lifestyles in women of childbearing

By Bill Hendrick
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved