New research suggests there is a strong link between a mother's diet during pregnancy and the risk of hear abnormalities in babies at birth.

Congenital heart defects are seen in about 1 percent of babies in the United States, and one in four of these affected individuals will die, the British Medical Journal reported. Physicians have very little solid evidence as to what increases the risk of these dangerous birth defects, so a team of researchers worked to gain insight into the influence of a mother's diet.

To make their findings, the researchers surveyed 19,000 women about the quantity and quality of their diet in the year leading up to giving birth. Half of these women gave birth to healthy babies and half gave birth to babies with heart defects. The participants' diets were assessed using the Mediterranean Diet Score and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy (DQI-P).

The findings revealed women in the top 25 percent for diet quality according to the DQI-P had a significantly lower risk of having a baby with heart defects than those in the bottom 25 percent. A high quality diet was linked to a 37 percent lower risk of tetralogy of Fallot and a 23 percent lower risk of atrial septal defects.

Atrial septal defects are holes in the wall of the septum dividing the chambers of the heart, and tetralogy of Fallot is an abnormality that can lead to dangerously low levels of oxygen in the blood being pumped out of the heart.

The researchers noted the study was observational, and does not provide a definitive conclusion on the cause of heart defects and the effect of the maternal diet, but similar findings have been made in the past in regards to cleft palate and neural tube defects.

The findings were published in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal.