Often, when women decide they want to have children they are advised by doctors to stop drinking alcohol, smoking and ensure their diet is giving them enough folic acid and iron, in order to prepare their body for pregnancy.
However, new research has found that dietary changes should be made years before attempting to conceive. In fact, experts are warning that the vast majority of women of reproductive age aren't nutritionally prepared for pregnancy.
The study by University College London, published in The Lancet, researched 509 women of reproductive age and found 96% had iron and folate intakes below the recommendation for pregnancy. Experts are subsequently warning that diet and lifestyle overhauls need to be made years before considering having children.
Researchers are also advising that children be taught about the best diet to prepare for pregnancy.They found that more than one quarter of pregnant women are overweight or obese, and warned more long-term efforts need to be made to reduce high levels of obesity among expecting parents.
According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, it is recommended that New Zealand adults consume around 400 micro grams of folate acid each day. Daily folate requirements increase substantially for pregnant and breastfeeding women and therefore they are recommended to consume around 600 and 500 micro grams of folate each day.
Being nutritionally unprepared for pregnancy puts the long-term health of children at risk, and excess weight while carrying a baby increases the risk of cardiovascular, metabolic, immune and neurological diseases.
Not only does it impact subsequent children if you do manage to conceive with an unhealthy diet, but the chances of that happening in the first place are already reduced. In fact, links between male obesity and poor sperm quality have been made.
Experts are said to be 'extremely concerned' by the findings of the study, with lead author Professor Judith Stephenson saying:
'The preconception period is a critical time when parental health - including weight, metabolism, and diet - can influence the risk of future chronic disease in children, and we must now re-examine public health policy to help reduce this risk.
'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.'
This article originally appeared on Grazia.