Less than one in five expectant Irish mothers are meeting the dietary requirements for a healthy pregnancy, according to a new study.
The research found that 91pc of Irish mothers-to-be say they make a conscious effort to eat healthily - but only a fraction met standard European dietary guidelines during pregnancy.
The new study, carried out by the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction at the Coombe Hospital, revealed that only one in five women are meeting the dietary requirements for calcium. The research into whether access to an expert website on nutrition in pregnancy improved neonatal outcomes found that only 13pc of the pregnant mothers had sufficient iron.
Only a tiny 2.7pc met the requirement for folate which is linked to prevention of neural tube conditions such as spina bifida.
Consultant obstetrician heading up the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction, Michael Turner, said women needed to go back to basics to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy.
"The evidence is that women in Ireland are not meeting their daily requirements for fruit and vegetables", said the professor of obstetrics and gynaecology from the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.
"The issue is quality not quantity. Pregnant women do not need to increase their portions for two.
"They need to focus on consuming fresh, unprocessed, recently prepared fruit and vegetables which are high in nutrients."
Prof Turner, one of the authors of the paper which has just been published in the Journal of Public Health, said that dietary requirements were important for both mother and baby.
"Low folate intake is a concern because it increases the risk of neural tube defects and increases the risk of maternal anaemia," he said.
"Low iron intake increases the risk of maternal anaemia and thus, the risk of blood transfusion."
The research, led by Rachel Kennedy, into 250 Irish expectant mothers was carried out by the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction and the School of Biological Sciences at the Dublin Institute of Technology. The results of four days of their daily diet were measured to see if their nutrient intake met recommended dietary intake guidelines based on the European Food Safety Authority.
The aim of the study was to evaluate the potential of online nutrition resources to modify the behaviour of pregnant women.
The researchers said inadequate maternal nutrition was a large contributor to adverse neonatal outcomes such as low birth weight, small for gestational age and pre-term birth in the developing world.