British women aren’t prepared for pregnancy because their lifestyles are too unhealthy, new research has suggested.
They are also lacking sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals.
And those lifestyle choices not only mean many women are unprepared for pregnancy, but they also could be putting the health of their unborn baby at risk.
Scientists analysed data on 509 women aged 18 to 42 who participated in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
Not one of the participants aged 26 to 30 was getting the recommended one microgram per day of vitamin B12, which is essential to the healthy development of a baby’s nervous system.
In total, a significant 96 per cent of the women were found to have iron and folate deficiencies below the recommendation for pregnancy.
The survey conducted between 2008 and 2012 also found that 40% of women aged 26 to 30 were overweight or obese.
Some 70% of this age group ate less than five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. This was also true of 91% of younger women aged 18 to 25.
More than a third of women aged 26 to 30, and a third of those aged 18 to 25, were smokers, while 28% of the younger age group consumed high-risk levels of alcohol.
The findings form part of a detailed assessment of parental diet and lifestyle spread across three papers in The Lancet medical journal.
Commenting on the findings lead author Professor Judith Stephenson, from University College London, said: “While the current focus on risk factors, such as smoking and excess alcohol intake, is important, we also need new drives to prepare nutritionally for pregnancy for both parents.”
“Raising awareness of preconception health, and increasing availability of support to improve health before conception will be crucial. This isn’t about provoking fear or blaming individuals – our analysis establishes the importance of health of the next generation, stresses societal responsibility, and demands strong local, national and international leadership.”
As a result of the findings study authors recommend that those couples planning to start a family make lifestyle changes such as cutting out alcohol and taking dietary supplements approximately three months before attempting to conceive.
The news comes as earlier this week mums-to-be who take painkillers during pregnancy were warned that this could affect the fertility of their unborn child in later life.
Previous research found that pregnant women who take Ibuprofen could be unwittingly harming the fertility of their unborn baby girls.
But the new research found that taking painkillers in pregnancy could harm future fertility of subsequent offspring, which would therefore have an impact on boys as well as girls.
Last month it was revealed that around one in 14 women who had babies in 2016 smoked cigarettes during pregnancy.
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