Medical researchers identify 'lifestyle changes' that may lead to safer pregnancies

There are many factors that could lead to a complicated pregnancy, but medical researchers have identified a few that may be avoidable, according to a new study published in the medical journal BMJ. Researchers from the U.K., Ireland and New Zealand have collaborated on a study that pinpoints how certain lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.

Researchers looked at 5,628 healthy women embarking on their first, single-birth pregnancy, analyzing the women from 15-20 weeks into the pregnancy to determine the early factors that might influence or reduce instances of complication later on.

Of the women studied, 61 percent experienced a "normal pregnancy," which the study defined as "normotensive pregnancy, delivered at more than 37 weeks resulting in a live born baby who was not small for gestational age and did not have any other significant pregnancy complications."

Of the complications observed, the most common were low birth weight (11 percent), gestational hypertension (8 percent), preeclampsia (5 percent) and spontaneous preterm birth (4 percent).

After studying the women and their habits, the researchers did identify a few common factors that might help prevent or reduce instances of complication in pregnant women. Here are their top suggestions.

Limit your liquor
One of the leading factors in birth complications, including miscarriage, is the misuse of harmful drugs - including alcohol. In many cases, the damage is done in the first trimester, before a woman even realizes she's pregnant. If you're trying to conceive or feel that pregnancy is possible, eliminate or limit your intake of alcohol to reduce your risk.

Get paid
For reasons unknown, researchers determined that women who were receiving steady paychecks at least 15 weeks into their pregnancy fared better than those who didn't, experiencing fewer birth complications. With the leading causes of complications being associated with hypertension (high blood pressure), it may be that the security of this income helped those moms-to-be feel less stressed about providing for their family.

Up your fruit intake
If you're trying to get pregnant, researchers recommend eating a lot of fruit. The study showed that moms who increased the amount of fruit they ate in the month before conception experienced fewer complications as well.

Don't gain too much too fast
Everyone knows that it's expected you'll gain weight during your pregnancy, but gaining too much in your first trimester has been linked with complications. In most cases, it's the second and third trimesters in which you'll gain the most weight. What to Expect When You're Expecting recommended that a healthy woman within normal body mass index range gain approximately 30 pounds during the course of her pregnancy. Women with higher BMIs, on the other hand, should aim to gain less, while those with lower BMIs should aim to gain more.

Take steps to reduce your blood pressure
High blood pressure has been linked to dangerous complications such as preeclampsia and eclampsia, which have the risk of being fatal for mother and child. High blood pressure can be genetic, the result of certain drugs (such as contraceptive pills) or the result of a stressful lifestyle. Those who keep tabs on their blood pressure levels and take steps to reduce them may save themselves from potentially dangerous birth complications. Steps to take include exercise, weight loss, reducing liquor intake and following a healthy diet that doesn't include much salt.

Do any of these tips come as a surprise to you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.