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Healthy lifestyle behaviours in pregnancy: A prospective cohort study in Ireland

02 December 2015
21 min read
Volume 23 · Issue 12

Abstract

Background:

Women attempting to conceive and those in early pregnancy are advised to alter their lifestyles to achieve and maintain a healthy pregnancy. This study aimed to determine women's reported health behaviours during pregnancy to identify ‘at risk’ groups of women and their pregnancy outcomes.

Method:

A cohort study of 907 women who booked for antenatal care and birth in a large maternity hospital in Dublin, was undertaken from 2010–2011. Eligible women completed an interview at the first visit, a postal questionnaire during the third trimester, and were followed-up until birth and hospital discharge.

Results:

Over 80% of women were found to have factors contributing to an unhealthy lifestyle during the first and third trimester of pregnancy. Clustering of unfavourable factors was evident, with 47% of women engaging in two or more unhealthy lifestyle behaviours during pregnancy. Women of Irish nationality, aged 35–39 years, or who had private health care, were identified as being more likely to have favourable factors for a healthy pregnancy. Women were more likely to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviours during the third trimester if they were having their first baby. Women with healthy lifestyles in pregnancy had better perinatal outcomes than unhealthy women.

Conclusion:

Many women continue to make unhealthy lifestyle choices during pregnancy despite guidelines that recommend healthy behaviours in pregnancy. The ongoing challenge for health professionals is to encourage healthy behaviour modification in women who are planning to conceive or who are already pregnant, particularly young women and those with an unplanned pregnancy.

Women's lifestyle choices before and during pregnancy can have significant links to the health of both the mother and her unborn child (O'Keeffe et al, 2013). Women attempting to conceive and those in early pregnancy are encouraged to alter their lifestyles to achieve and maintain a healthy pregnancy (McKnight, 2013). Optimum pregnancy and infant health outcomes are associated with non-smoking, avoidance of alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy, a healthy balanced diet, regular exercise and compliance with periconceptional folic acid supplementation (Mullally et al, 2011; Health Service Executive (HSE), 2013; Murphy et al, 2013a; 2013b). Advice on lifestyle behavioural change in preparation for and during pregnancy is widely available from health professionals, magazines, television and the internet.

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