February 20, 2017

Women’s dietary changes before and during pregnancy: a systematic review

S E Hillier & E K Olander, 2017, Women’s dietary changes before and during pregnancy: a systematic review, Midwifery, article in press.


BACKGROUND: dietary intake before and during pregnancy has significant health outcomes for both mother and child, including a healthy gestational weight gain. To ensure effective interventions are successfully developed to improve dietary intake during pregnancy, it is important to understand what dietary changes pregnant women make without intervention.

AIMS: to systematically identify and review studies examining women’s dietary changes before and during pregnancy and to identify characteristics of the women making these changes.

METHODS: a systematic search strategy was employed using three databases (Web of Science, CINAHL and PubMed) in May 2016. Search terms included those relating to preconception, pregnancy and diet. All papers were quality assessed using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network methodology checklist for cohort studies. The search revealed 898 articles narrowed to full-text review of 23 studies. In total, 11 research articles were included in the review, describing nine different studies. The findings were narratively summarised in line with the aims of the review.

FINDINGS: the included studies showed marked heterogeneity, which impacts on the findings. However, the majority report an increase in energy intake (kcal or kJ) during pregnancy. Of the studies that reported changes through food group comparisons, a majority reported a significant increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, a decrease in egg consumption, a decrease in fried and fast food consumption and a decrease in coffee and tea consumption from before to during pregnancy. The characteristics of the women participating in these studies, suggest that age, education and pregnancy intention are associated with healthier dietary changes; however these factors were only assessed in a small number of studies.

KEY CONCLUSIONS: the 11 included articles show varied results in dietary intake during pregnancy as compared to before. More research is needed regarding who makes these healthy changes, this includes consistency regarding measurement tools, outcomes and time points.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Midwives as well as intervention developers need to be aware of the dietary changes women may spontaneously engage in when becoming pregnant, so that care and interventions can build on these.

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