Use of Fish Oil Supplements During Pregnancy

According to research, the last three months of pregnancy are a crucial time for pregnant women to take fish oil supplements, as the baby′s brain experiences a growth spurt during that time, which continues through the first few months of the infant′s life. Evidence is increasingly accumulating about the benefits of high omega-3 fatty acid content in the fish oil supplements during pregnancy. These healthy fats are beneficial to the brain development of a healthy baby while in the womb. Pregnant women have an increased need for essential omega-3 fatty acids than women who are not pregnant. A baby while in the womb and as newborn depends entirely on the mother for omega-3 fatty acids as they cannot produce these fatty acids. Hence, the maternal omega-3 status during pregnancy is critical for the omega-3 status in the newborn because these nutrients are key building blocks for the brain and the nervous system. Yet, many pregnant women lack the important omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Therefore improving maternal omega-3 status throughout pregnancy and lactation ultimately benefits the infant.

Benefits for Baby

Fish oil supplements taken during pregnancy help in the proper development of a baby′s brain and IQ, improve eyesight and lead to fewer behavioral problems later in life.

A recent study also shows improved hand-eye coordination and greatly improved comprehension in children whose mothers were given either high-dose fish oil or olive oil during pregnancy. The researchers based their findings on 98 pregnant women, who were either given 4 g of fish oil supplements or 4 g of olive oil supplements daily from 20 weeks of pregnancy until the birth of their babies. High cord blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids at birth (from fish oil) were strongly associated with good hand-eye coordination, while low levels of omega-6 fatty acids, found in many vegetable oils, were not.

Maternal intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation may be favorable for the later mental development of children. Children whose mothers received DHA supplementation during pregnancy and lactation scored better in mental processing tests carried out at four years than children whose mothers received placebo. Intake of DHA by the mother (but not infant intake) positively correlated with the mental processing ability of the children. Hence, optimizing DHA status of expectant women may offer long-term developmental benefits to their children.

Recent research indicates that mothers who take fish oil supplements in pregnancy can substantially reduce the chance of their children developing asthma later in life. Fish oil supplements during pregnancy can help to assure the proper development of the baby′s eyes as DHA is the key nutrient for the proper development of the retina of the eye. The beneficial actions of omega-3 fatty acids are not just limited to the baby, but also extend to the mother. They also have a specific effect on the health of the mother as well as the outcome of pregnancy.

Benefits for Mother

  • Maternal supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may increase the duration of gestation, birth weight or both.
  • Supplementation with fish oil reduces the reoccurrence risk of preterm delivery among women with a history of preterm births and may be of help in preventing miscarriage or abortion.
  • A mother who takes fish oil supplementation during pregnancy may have less chance of developing pre-eclampsia (combination of high blood pressure, swelling and protein in the urine) as well as lower the risk of postpartum depression.

Recommended Intake During Pregnancy

Given concerns for mercury toxicity with overconsumption of certain fish, in order to meet these recommendations, pregnant women will need to consume omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil capsules, containing both EPA and DHA as they are good, mercury-safe means of supplementing the diet of a pregnant woman. Pregnant women can eat fish, such as catfish, flounder and salmon (less or no mercury) or take fish oil supplements. Women who do not eat fish might consider nonmarine sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, canola oil, soybean oil or walnuts. However, there is less evidence supporting a cardiovascular benefit from these sources of omega-3 fatty acids. However, all pregnant women should avoid mercury-rich shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish because the relatively high content of mercury in them may impair fetal neurological development.

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