IHMRI researchers are taking a fresh look at how diet and exercise can reduce pregnancy complications and deliver healthy babies in the Illawarra.

Choosing a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy plays a critical role in the developing foetus but also reduces the risk of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, caesarean delivery and preeclampsia.

To date, there is little published research in this area or on health behaviour interventions during pregnancy for disadvantaged, overweight and obese women in the Illawarra.

IHMRI has awarded a grant to support a research project to explore this theme further and design a program alongside pregnant women.

“Pregnancy is a time when social roles are redefined for mothers who will be raising a child for the first time, and thus new mothers may be motivated to establish physical activity and healthy eating behaviours,” said Dr Karen Fildes.

Experiences with food during pregnancy and changes in lifestyle will be some of the themes of the study.

“By conducting focus groups with pregnant women who have a BMI > 30, we are aiming to develop a culturally appropriate behavioural intervention to improve health outcomes, “said Dr Fildes.

The study will be a collaborative approach with the pregnant women who agree to take part in the research.

“Our approach centres on co-designing a strategy that is feasible and acceptable to the women by developing a behavioural intervention with them, rather than for them,” said Dr Fildes.

It’s a collaborative project between clinicians and academics and the team includes, Professor Tony Okely from UOW’s Early Start Research Institute, Professor of Nursing and Midwifery Val Wilson from the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District and Midwife Lynette Nicoll.

Through its grant scheme IHMRI supports collaborative research projects, co-led by an academic and a clinician/health professional researcher, that target important health issues within the Illawarra community and address medically-relevant questions.

The study is expected to get underway in the Illawarra next year.

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