Women who eat a healthy diet before and during their pregnancy may reduce the risk of their baby developing certain heart conditions, say researchers.
The study, published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood Fetal & Neonatal Edition, looked at 19,000 women in the US in the year leading up to pregnancy.
Researchers found that half of the women surveyed had babies with heart problems while the other half did not. When they compared the diets of these two groups, they discovered that healthier maternal diet was linked with a lower chance of congenital heart defects.
A healthy diet was consider to be one that contained good amounts of fresh fish, fruit, nuts and vegetables.
Pregnant women in the top 25% of diet quality had a lower risk of having a baby with certain heart defects – atrial septal defects and Tetralogy of Fallot – than those in the bottom 25%. This result was still true even when other factors such as maternal smoking and folic acid consumption were taken into account.
In the UK, pregnant women and women trying to conceive are already advised to take folic acid and vitamin D supplements to help improve the health of their baby.
Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the BHF, said: “This is an interesting study which highlights the importance of diet right from the start of life.
“A healthy diet before, during and after pregnancy can have benefits for both mother and child and, as seen here, the whole diet should be taken into consideration, rather than solely focusing on individual nutrients.
“Eating well isn’t a guaranteed way to avoid congenital heart defects, but this will be another factor that will motivate women planning a pregnancy to make healthy choices.”