A new study suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet and meditating when pregnant could help those at risk of having a small baby deliver a child at a healthy weight.
The study, carried out by scientists at a hospital in Barcelona in Spain, monitored the second and third trimester of 1,200 women who were considered at risk of delivering babies with a low birth weight.
Small babies are at higher risk of having brain and heart developmental problems. Obesity, smoking and being over 40 can be factors in having a baby with a lower birth weight.
Researchers, led by Professor Eduard Gratacós, an expert in foetal medicine, found that women who ate a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and olive oil – a third of those monitored – were less likely to give birth to a baby measuring on the lowest percentile.
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The research also looked at the impact of mindfulness on babies’ weights, with another third of the 1,200 women practising meditation during the second half of their pregnancy.
The research, published in JAMA, took place between February 2017 and October 2019 and monitored women who were 19 to 23 weeks pregnant with a increased risk of having a small baby.
A third of them were given olive oil and walnuts for free and were encouraged to eat fresh fruit, whole grains and vegetable and dairy products, as well as consuming a diet rich in legumes, nuts, fish and white meat.
For the group following a mindfulness course, they were encouraged to attend sessions of mindfulness every week for two months and follow daily meditation sessions at home.
The women in the stress reduction group participated in an eight-week course that included weekly 2.5-hour sessions and one full-day session. The remaining women of the 1,200 monitored received routine care.
Among those following a Mediterranean diet, 14 per cent gave birth to small babies, while those following meditation had a low birth rate of 15.6 per cent. 21.9 per cent of babies born to the women receiving standard care were small.
Scientists made it clear that the evidence reported was preliminary and further studies were needed but said the results suggested that a poor diet and high stress levels could be contributing factors to low birth weights.