A study led by the University of Granada (UGR) has linked the consumption of dairy products (milk, fresh cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese) during pregnancy with a lower risk of having a low birth weight newborn. The research, published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, suggests that for every increase of 100 grams in the daily consumption of dairy products, the risk of small-for-gestational-age infants is reduced by 11 percent.
Birth weight is one of the main factors of newborn health in both short and long term. Low birth weight infants have a greater risk of perinatal morbidity and mortality, as well as present and future metabolic problems.
Low birth weight is a global health problem and, for this reason, it is a priority to identify potentially modifiable risk factors that allow the development of future interventions for its control and prevention. In this sense, maternal nutrition is a key factor in fetal growth. Different foods and micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, play an important role in the development of the fetus and the newborn.
Among said foods, the consumption of dairy products during pregnancy is especially important for the development of the fetus' plastic elements. The Spanish Society of Community Nutrition and the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine recommend the maternal diet to be fortified during this stage of life, going from 2-3 servings of dairy products before pregnancy (2-3 glasses of milk) to 3 or 4 servings during pregnancy (2 glasses of milk, 1 yogurt and a portion of cheese, for example).
Based on the data collected for the Regional Government of Andalusia's Excellence Project about nutrition in pregnancy and maternal-fetal risks, the authors of this paper proposed to analyze the risk of having infants with low birth weight for their gestational age, and its association with the consumption of dairy products by the mother.
This study was carried out in collaboration between researchers from the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health of the University of Granada and the Obstetrics and Gynecology Service of the Virgen de las Nieves University Hospital of Granada, all of them members of the Institute for Biosanitary Research of Granada (ibs. GRANADA).
The study involved a total of 1175 pregnant women residing in the reference area of the hospital, without previous pathology, who were willing to modify their diet and/or level of physical activity, and who were monitored throughout the gestation period.
The study showed that approximately one in 8-9 pregnancies resulted in a small-for-gestational-age infant (11.8% risk). Researchers found that women who had a low birth weight infant had less dairy consumption during pregnancy than those who had a normal weight infant: an intake of 513.9 g/day versus 590.3 g/day, respectively.
"What's really interesting is that there seems to be a dose-response gradient, so that the higher the intake of dairy products the lower the risk of having a low birth weight baby", Rocío Olmedo Requena, from the department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Granada and lead author of the paper, explains.
Based on the results observed in the studied cohort, the percentage of small-for-gestational-age newborns that could be avoided by increasing the dairy consumption could vary from 4.5% to 39.7%, depending on the consumption and its modification in a positive sense during gestation.
"For example, 1 in 5 small-for-gestational-age infants could be avoided if consumption increased to 600 g/day (3 glasses of milk per day; or 2 glasses of milk and a portion of fresh cheese weighing 125 grams; or 1 glass of milk, 2 yogurts and 200 grams of cottage cheese) by women with a low dairy intake. The potential for prevention in these cases could reach 39.7% if they consume 900 g/day", the researcher says.