New Australian research has found that women wanting to get pregnant should be eating a diet high in vegetables before they conceive to lower their risk of giving birth prematurely.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Queensland, the new study looked at nearly 3,500 women who were not pregnant at the start of the study, and assessed their diets using a scoring system called the Healthy Eating Index-2015.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that after taking into account possibly influencing lifestyle factors, eating a higher intake of "traditional" vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin, cabbage, green beans and potatoes before getting pregnant appeared to lower the risk of premature birth.
However, no significant associations were found between the women's pre-pregnancy diet and the risk of having a low birth-weight baby.
"Traditional vegetables are rich in antioxidants or anti-inflammatory nutrients, which have a significant role in reducing the risk of adverse birth outcomes," said researcher Dereje Gete.
"Women depend on certain stored nutrients such as calcium and iron before conception, which are critical for placenta and fetus tissue development."
"Starting a healthier diet after the baby has been conceived may be too late, because babies are fully formed by the end of the first trimester."
The findings may be significant as premature births, which are defined as births before 37 weeks of gestation, are the leading cause of death in Australian children and can have long-term health implications. They affect 8.5 percent of births per year, a number which is on the rise.
"People born prematurely face a greater risk of metabolic and chronic diseases in adulthood, as well as poor cognitive development and academic performance," said co-author Professor Gita D. Mishra.