Your role in supporting pregnant women’s health

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Promotion of child health begins during pregnancy (and before). What pregnant women consume, how active they are and how they manage their weight can all have an impact on fetal development and the child’s future health. Furthermore, if pregnant women (and family members) can establish healthy eating and physical activity habits whilst the child is in utero, this lays the foundations for a healthy environment for the child’s early years (and may have beneficial effects for the whole family’s mental and physical health).

Health and early years practitioners have an important role in promoting good health at every possible opportunity. ‘Making every contact count’ encourages professionals to use the ‘millions of day to day interactions’ they have with people to support them to make positive changes to improve their physical and mental health. Pregnancy is an ideal opportunity for this, as women are in regular contact with health services, often for the first time, plus they are often more motivated to seek information about health and make changes to their lifestyle.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends every pregnant woman should receive advice about healthy eating from a midwife during antenatal care. Other early year’s practitioners, such as health visiting teams or Children’s Centre staff, may also come into contact with pregnant women. These indirect interactions may offer opportunities to provide relevant education and support pregnant women to change their diet or physical activity behaviours.

A recent research study from Julie Abayomi and colleagues (2020) suggested this isn’t always easy however, and despite pregnant women wanting to receive healthy eating advice, in practice advice may be inconsistent or focus too much on what foods to avoid (rather than how to get the nutritional requirements they need).

Gaining the knowledge and confidence to discuss healthy eating, physical activity and weight

As a practitioner you may feel you lack the requisite knowledge to talk with pregnant women about their diet or physical activity, or perhaps you fear causing offence by discussing weight with women who are living with obesity. These are common feelings and through providing key evidence-based messages about “what” to say and “how” to bring it up, this module aims to allay some of these fears.

We hope after completing the module (along with the communicating about weight and behaviour change technique modules) you will feel able and ready to open conversations with pregnant women about healthy eating, physical activity and weight management.

Key messages
  • Health and early years practitioners have a responsibility to promote the health of women and young children at any given opportunity.
  • Pregnancy offers an opportune time to discuss healthy lifestyles with women.
  • Intervention at the pregnancy stage may have benefits for fetal development, the child’s future health and the health of the whole family.
  • It is normal to feel uncomfortable about bringing up the topic of weight, but by improving confidence around the evidence base and “how” to raise the issue, it is possible to integrate conversations about weight (and related behaviours) within routine practice in a sensitive and effective way.