Call for early nutritional guidance for mums-to-be

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A report by the Infant and Toddler Forum (ITF) has highlighted a need for more advice for women planning to have children to improve the health of the next generation.

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Midwives want more training on nutrition in pregnancy

Early Nutrition for Later Health: Time to Act Earlier discusses the emerging evidence that a mother’s weight and nutritional status before and during pregnancy can have a long-lasting effect on the health of her children and their risk of disease in later life.

The report points out that diabetes levels have doubled over the past 20 years, while more than a quarter of five-year-olds having tooth decay from consuming too much sugary food and drink. England is the ninth fattest nation in Europe, and one in four seven- to-11-year-olds are overweight or obese.

‘Clear guidance in pregnancy and pre-conception needs to be our new focus. That is why we need to focus earlier on in the life cycle, to influence nutrition and life choices from before conception through to pre-school,’ said Dr Atul Singhal, Professor of Paediatric Nutrition at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Chair of the ITF.

According to the report, there is an ‘important “window of opportunity” between preconception and the early postnatal years of life during which nutritional advice and dietary and behavioural change is best received and most likely to be effective.’

Results from a survey of 1,000 women reveal that mothers are more likely to adopt healthier behaviours if they receive advice from healthcare professionals (HCPs), particularly before conception.

But the report goes on to say that there is a distinct lack of training and information on nutrition and healthy lifestyles in pregnancy for HCPs, who are consequently unable to advise expectant mothers and those planning to conceive.

A survey of 150 HCPs found that 72 per cent considered nutrition important in preconception and pregnancy, but one third of HCPs have had no training in the area. Four in ten HCPs always give advice on nutrition and exercise to pregnant women, while a third say explaining the risks of obesity to pregnant woman is a major challenge due to a lack of time in consultations. Half of the HCPs surveyed would welcome more training on nutrition in pregnancy.

To address the issue the ITF has released the first in a series of new factsheets to support and empower HCPs to help families to make healthy lifestyle choices by delivering clear, practical advice.

Gill Perks, midwifery matron, antenatal and postnatal services, NHS and ITF member said, ‘The report supports greater emphasis within primary care of pre-conception clinics to guide all parents-to-be on nutrition and lifestyle. It also calls for action to increase the uptake of recommended vitamins and supplements during pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

‘It’s not just about giving information, we need to be able to support women to change behaviour by recognising what works for them and having the healthy conversation.’

The first factsheet in the new pregnancy series, Healthy Eating in Pregnancy is available here

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