PREGNANT women who drink water and eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereal could reduce their chance of premature birth, research suggests.

Experts found that women on such a diet, also rich in oils, whole grain bread and poultry, were less likely to give birth before 37 weeks.

Those who followed a more "traditional" diet of foods such as potatoes, cooked vegetables and fish, could also cut their risk.

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Writing online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), experts studied data for 66,000 pregnant women, of which 3505 (5.3%) delivered their babies early.

They found that women who followed the diet rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables had around a 12% reduced risk of premature delivery, especially if they were having their first baby. Risks were also cut by around 9% for those who favoured the more "traditional" diet.

There was no link found between premature birth and women eating a diet of salty and sweet snacks, white bread, desserts and processed meats.

The authors, from hospitals and public health organisations in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, said: "Although these findings cannot establish causality, they support dietary advice to pregnant women to eat a balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish and to drink water. Our results indicate that increasing the intake of foods associated with a prudent dietary pattern is more important than totally excluding processed food, fast food, junk food, and snacks."