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Health Benefits of Taking Fish Oil during Pregnancy
Is it safe to take fish oil during pregnancy and what are the health benefits?
Latest research shows that consuming omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy can lead to babies born with better eye hand coordination, a reduced risk for allergies and improved fetal growth during pregnancy.
During your pregnancy it’s very important to eat a balanced diet that supplies the nutrients you need for a healthy baby.
Fish is an excellent source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are proven to reduce inflammation, lower the risk for heart disease and stroke, and enhance your immune system.
While the American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week, the U.S. FDA advises pregnant women and children to avoid unnecessary exposure to mercury.
So how can you enjoy the health benefits of fish without risking your unborn child’s health due to mercury exposure?
Using a highly refined fish oil or omega 3 fatty acid supplement can provide your unborn baby with the healthy fats it needs without undue exposuree to mercury.
The following research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids may offer the following health benefits during pregnancy:
May lead to increased blood flow to uterus, promoting an environment more conducive to pregnancy.
May lower the risk of premature births.
Can boosts your baby’s immune system and help your child fight infections.
Improves infant visual acuity and enhances body development.
May lower your baby’s risk for getting allergies.
Fish Oil during Pregnancy may Boost Eye Health in Babies
Poland – One of the risks for premature babies is they may be born with insufficient stores of the omega 3 fatty acid, docosahecaenoic acid (DHA).
This fatty acid is vital for the proper development and growth of the retina’s rods and cones; important components for healthy eyesight.
A study published in Pediatrics Journal showed 44 premature infants given a fish oil-supplemented formula of DHA showed a lower risk for retinopathy and laser therapy to correct poor retinal development.
Studies indicate that a mother’s breast milk is better than infant formula because it contains a natural source of essental fatty acids delivered straight from the mother.
Researchers believe that using fish oil during pregnancy may help increase the level of DHA and EPA delivered to the fetus which may lead to better eye health and lower the risk for DHA-deficient retinopathy.
Health Benefits of Milk Formulas fortified with Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Knoxville, Tennessee – Breastfeeding is still the best way to give your baby a good head start to a healthy life. But what if you can’t breast feed your child and need to use infant formula?
Are infant formulas fortified with omega 3 fatty acids an effective substitute for meeting your baby’s nutritional needs?
Researchers at University of Tennessee noticed babies fed formula supplemented with omega 3 fatty acids performed better on specialized eye tests and attention tests compared to some breast fed babies.
The babies were fed an infant formula supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid found in fish oil supplements and fatty fish.
At 12 months of age, the babies were tested for memory and attention spans.
The babies fed the DHA supplement focused their attention more frequently than babies not getting the omega 3-enriched formula.
Positive effects were seen up to 10 months after DHA supplements were stopped.
This test confirmed earlier evidence that omega 3 fatty acids can increase how fast infants process information.
Taking Fish Oil during Pregnancy may Reduce Risk for Newborn Allergies
Australia – Researchers from the School of Pediatrics and Child Health at the University of Western Australia believe taking fish oil during pregnancy may help prevent some inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and allergies, from developing.
It’s believed that many health conditions, such as asthma and allergies, could be triggered by an inflammatory response.
The scientists believe that supplementing the mother’s diet with omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk for newborn allergies if the diet is deficient in omega 3 fatty acids.
Eating Fatty Fish or Fish Oil during Pregnancy may Reduce Asthma Risk
Los Angeles, California – The Department of Preventative Medicine in University of Southern California conducted a study looking at the types and amounts of fish eaten during pregnancy and the prevalence of asthma in these mothers’ children.
Researchers found pregnant women who ate fatty fish at least once per month, and whose diets included high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, reduced their child’s risk for asthma. Children of women whose diets were low in omega 3 fatty acids appeared to have an increased risk for developing asthma.
Researchers concluded that eating oily fish during pregnancy may offer some level of protection to babies from developing asthma and other inflammatory health conditions.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids may Improve Infant Brain Function and Growth
Beijing, China – Researchers at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety in Beijing believe there’s a relationship between a pregnant and lactating mother’s intake of omega 3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and the effect DHA has on the development of the fetus and newborn infants.
Scientists found the following benefits in infants whose mothers diets had increased omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy:
Having higher overall levels of DHA.
Displayed better development in visual acuity (vision sharpness).
Exhibiting higher developed brain function.
Better body development.
Over 50% of the human brain is made of fatty acids. Interestingly enough, the omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) actually makes up 30% of the brain and 50% of the retina.
It’s believed that since the infant relies on the mother for its supply of DHA and omega 3 fatty acids, it’s important to know that any deficiencies in the mother’s DHA levels may affect brain and retinal development in the baby.
Effects of Omega 3 Fatty acids on Problem Solving in Infants
United Kingdom – Scientists performed a randomized trial to determine if there is any relationship between omega 3 enriched formula and cognitive function in babies.
Forty-four (44) infants were randomly selected to receive either an infant formula supplement with or without omega 3 fatty acids from birth to 4 months of age.
Researchers measured cognitive function on the infants at 10 months of age and found a higher ability for problem solving in infants fed the omega 3 supplemented formula.
The scientists believe that omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in cognitive development in newborns and may relate to higher IQ scores later in life.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids may Help Nervous System Development in Babies
Egypt – It’s an accepted fact that breast milk provides the full range of fatty acids your baby needs for healthy development.
But what would be the difference between babies fed regular infant formula or breast milk?
Researchers test infants using specialized tests that measured their brain and nervous system function; including visual evoked potentials and auditory brain stem stimulation.
Scientists found infants fed omega 3 breast milk exhibited more mature nervous system development. They concluded that omega 3 fatty acids are important for earlier infant development and growth of the nervous system.
Editorial Comments on Fish Oil and Pregnancy Research:
The above research appears to indicate that there are some possible health benefits from taking omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy. Improved infant development and enhancing a woman’s fertility appear to be the primary benefits.
Researchers at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University Medical Centre in Rotterdam reported that a high intake of omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy, particularly EPA and DHA, led to improved embryonic growth.
This was supported by another study published in the 2009 February Issue of British Journal of Nutrition that found a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids resulted in improved fetal growth.
Benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil and pregnancy:
May lower the risk of premature births.
May reduce the risk for infant omega 3 deficient eye and retina disorders.
Improved immune response in newborn infants and may lower the risk for asthma and allergies.
Improve performance on visual sharpness tests, attention tests and processing of information.
May help in earlier development and growth of an infant’s nervous system.
Enhances fetal growth and may benefit infant body development.
Eating Fish and Mercury Exposure during Pregnancy
Eating fatty fish does supply important omega 3 fatty acids, however, you may be concerned about possible exposure to mercury while pregnant or lactating.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends:
” The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.”
For more detailed information regarding mercury exposure from eating fish, read the EPA’s What you Need to Know about Mercury and Shellfish. This is important information for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children and if you’re a woman who might become pregnant.
How to Avoid Mercury if taking Fish Oil during Pregnancy
Omega 3 fatty acids are important healthy fats needed for proper development and health. Your body can’t manufacture omega 3 fatty acids very efficiently, so you need to get them from your diet.
While fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are excellent sources of these fats, there is a risk of exposure to mercury.
An excellent way to get omega 3 fatty acids in your diet is by using a highly-purified, omega 3 concentrated fish oil supplement.
You should look for an omega 3 supplement that’s been analyzed to ensure it provides you the highest concentration of omega 3 fatty acids and the lowest possible levels of mercury, PCB’s, dioxins and other contaminants.
Products such as Dr. Sears OmegaRx Fish Oil provide highly purified levels of the omega 3 concentrates EPA and DHA with the lowest possible levels of contaminants not found in naturally refined fish oils.
Another highly-purified omega 3 product is Ascenta Health NutraSea. Ascenta Health Ltd. is a Canadian company based in Nova Scotia. Each bottle of Nutra Sea comes with its own batch number on the ingredient label. You can enter this batch number on the company website and it will show you the actual test results for that batch of fish oil in your bottle.
Using the absolute highest quality fish oil will ensure you will get the health benefits you seek from this popular nutritional supplement and reduce your risk for possible exposure to toxins and contaminants.
The omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA) have been shown to have positive effects on many different areas of the body, including embryonic development, neurological and nervous system health.
Ensuring you’re getting these essential fatty acids in your diet may play an important role to maintaining appropriate fetal and infant health.
Fish Oil and Pregnancy Research References:
Increased preconception omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake improves embryo morphology. Fertil Steril. 2011 Apr;95(5):1820-3. Epub 2010 Dec 3.
Fish-Oil Fat Emulsion Supplementation May Reduce the Risk of Severe Retinopathy in VLBW Infants. Pediatrics Vol. 127 No. 2 February 1, 2011
Visual-acuity development in healthy preterm infants: effect of marine-oil supplementation. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 58, 35-42
Maternal fatty acid intake and fetal growth: evidence for an association in overweight women. The ‘EDEN mother-child’ cohort (study of pre- and early postnatal determinants of the child’s development and health). British Journal of Nutrition 2009 Feb;101(4):583-91
Cognitive assessment at 21/2 years following fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of Disease Childhood, Fetal & Neonatal Edition. 2006 Dec 21
A Randomized Trial of Visual Attention of Pre-term Infants Fed Docosahexaenoic Acid Until Two Months Lipids. 1996 Jan;31(1):85-90.
Does Fish Oil Supplementation in Pregnancy Reduce the Risk of Allergic Disease in Infants? Fish oils and Pregnancy Study – Current Opinion in Allergy & Clinical Immunology. 2005 Jun;5(3):215-21.
Maternal Fish Consumption During Pregnancy and Risk of Early Childhood Asthma. The Journal of Asthma. 2005 Jul-Aug;42.(6):513-8.
Relationship Between Maternal DHA Intake and DHA Status and Development of Fetus and Infant, Journal of Hygiene Research (Wei Sheng Yan Jiu) 2005 Mar;34(2):231-3.
Fish Consumption in Pregnancy and Omega-3 Status After Birth are not Associated With Postnatal Depression. Fish oils and Pregnancy Study – Journal of Affective Disorders. 2006 Feb;90(2-3):131-9.Fish oils and post partum depression
Neural maturation of breastfed and formula-fed infants. Acta Paediatr. 2004 Jun;93(6):734-8.
Effect of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in infant formula on problem solving at 10 months of age. Lancet. 1998 Aug 29;352(9129):688-91