Women who followed a very healthy diet were 37 percent less likely than those who ate poorly to have a baby with tetralogy of Fallot, a complex heart defect that causes babies to turn blue because their blood can’t carry enough oxygen.
The women also were 23 percent less likely to have a baby born with an atrial septal defect, or a hole in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart, said the study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal & Neonatal Edition).
“The more you went up in diet quality, the less the risk for severe congenital heart anomalies,” said lead author Dr. Lorenzo Botto, a professor of pediatrics and a medical geneticist at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
The research team evaluated data from almost 10,000 mothers of babies born with heart defects, and about 9,500 mothers of healthy babies. The babies were born between October 1997 and December 2009, and are part of the larger, federally funded National Birth Defects Prevention Study.
Women and their babies benefited most from a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish, with limited intake of dairy, meat and sweets, the researchers found. Foods rich in nutrients like folic acid, iron and calcium were also considered healthy, the study authors said.