Fish Oil During Pregnancy

Oil from fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and sardines contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which are Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids very important in the physical and mental development of babies and infants. It has been noted that particularly DHA improves the ability to problem solve in 9 month old infants. All infant formula is now fortified with DHA, as the average North American diet is very deficient in this fatty acid, even for adults who do not fully take advantage of all the fish oil benefits !

However, ensuring a healthy brain for your infant begins by taking fish oil during pregnancy. Studies show that only 2% of pregnant women meet the recommended needs of these Omega 3 fatty acids for a healthy mother and child. Because EPA and DHA cannot be produced by the mother’s body in order to supply the unborn child with the required needs, it must be obtained through the foods she eats or with supplements. Scientists have recommended at least 900 mg of fish oils daily during pregnancy which can be consumed in one serving of any fish rich in these fatty acids. Salmon is one of the richest sources of EPA and DHA available in natural form.

Including the mental development, there are numerous additional benefits for the unborn child. Other areas of fetal development related to pregnant women consuming enough of these essential fatty acids are nervous system development, retinal formation for improved eyesight, fewer behavioural problems and improved sleep patterns.

fish oil pregnancyThere are additional benefits for the mother as well. Some of these are preventing pre-eclampsia, a symptom of hypertension related to other physical causative factors during pregnancy, reduced risk of breast cancer, reduced risk of postpartum depression, and reduced risk of early labour and delivery.

The only real risk to consuming more Omega 3 is the contaminant factor associated with eating fish. Many water sources are contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and dioxins, and we can never be sure that where our fish is coming from is free from these. Supplements could be an alternate consideration. However, you need to make sure that the company producing the supplement uses a contaminant free fish source as well.

As it is highly unlikely that any one person will consume at least one serving of fish daily, and it is the richest natural source of Omega 3 DHA and EPA fatty acids, supplements are highly recommended for any pregnant woman, particularly during the third trimester.

Being vegetarian is another complication which makes it more difficult to obtain these fatty acids in either natural or supplement form. Flax seed and some nuts contain Omega 3, but only the ALA form. It can be converted by the body to DHA but not in large enough quantities to reach the recommended dosage (for more information read on about flaxseed oil side effects). The best source of DHA for a vegetarian is through supplements produced with algae. As for supplements, you want to find the best fish oil supplement which probably means a pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement that has been refined of all heavy metals. This is especially important for sources of fish oil during pregnancy, you do NOT want to take any fish oil that has heavy metals such as mercury because while adults can take it in low amounts over long periods of time (probably one of the only important fish oil side effects) it’s much more dangerous for babies. So your sources of natural fish oil should be smaller fish such as previously mentioned salmon and mackerel. Or make sure to at least take supplements.

It is always best to discuss this with your doctor. As research and studies are beginning to show the correlation between Omega 3’s EPA and especially DHA and the development of a happy healthy brain in the fetus and infants, it is highly likely he will be able to help you make better decisions and choices.

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