Pregnant teenagers and their midwives need support to discuss healthy eating

 Starting well

Diet in pregnancy has significant impact on baby’s development and lifelong health. Pregnant teenagers’ diets are amongst the least healthy of any group in the UK, making healthy eating support a key target for improving their health and their child’s health.

A new study, led by Prof Mary Barker, has found very young mothers need more diet support from their midwives, who in turn feel the need for allocated time and more resources to do so.

The babies, eating, and lifestyle in adolescence (BELLA) study aimed to identify barriers preventing teenage mothers from eating healthily during their pregnancy, and find ways to overcome these.

The study team spoke to young mothers and their midwives, revealing challenges for both groups in discussing diet and food.

Different perspectives

Researchers interviewed 20 midwives and 106 young women who were teenagers when they gave birth to their first child, in Manchester, Doncaster, and Southampton, asking them questions about their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy, as well as what support would be helpful.

At the point of interview a fifth of participants were pregnant, with 67% still teenagers and the remaining 43% in their early twenties.  

The results, published in Social Science and Medicine, show that while young women trusted their midwives’ advice and wanted more support with healthy eating during pregnancy, the midwives felt they did not have the time, confidence, or enough knowledge to discuss it.

Improving support

The young women interviewed said they found it difficult to prioritise healthy eating, often feeling isolated and lacking control in their own lives, and wanted advice and support from their midwife.

Yet while the midwives felt it was part of their role to provide health eating support, they were anxious about starting a conversation about diet and health and felt that they lacked clear guidance on what to recommend.

Improving the guidance for midwives could therefore help to give midwives the confidence and knowledge to start these conversations, and in doing so enable them to better support teenage girls to eat well in pregnancy.

Dr Sofia Strommer, Chartered Psychologist and a Research Fellow in Behavioural Science managing the study, said: “These results show that better support for midwives could empower them talk about healthy eating with pregnant teenagers, helping to improve lifelong outcomes for young women and their babies.”

Posted on Monday 17 May 2021