Your Guide to Understanding Fish Oil and Your Pregnancy

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Pregnant Women and Fish Oil

Many pregnant women take fish oil during pregnancy for its purported health benefits. Prior to July 2011, it was believed that taking fish oil supplements in pregnancy would enhance an infant’s cognitive development and that it would decrease the mother’s risk of postpartum depression. A large research study, published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association disproved this. The researchers examined 2,399 pregnant women, and they found that there was no evidence that taking fish oil supplements reduced postpartum depression (except in women that were already at risk for the condition). Fish oil also did not make their babies smarter.

Fish Oil in Pregnancy

Despite the finding that fish oil during pregnancy doesn’t benefit babies’ cognitive function down the road, the researchers still recommend that fish oil for pregnant women for its other benefits. Fish oil is found naturally in fatty fish, such as sardines, salmon, trout, and mackerel.

Fish Oil Reduces Premature Births

This study, along with previous studies, concluded that fish oil is beneficial in protecting against premature birth. Fish oil is rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important omega-3 fatty acid, and it has been found time and time again to prevent premature birth.

One of the reasons why fish oil can prevent premature birth is DHA is known to suppress the formation of prostaglandins, the hormones that cause your uterus to contract in a normal labor. As a result, eating more fish, or taking fish oil supplements, will increase DHA in your diet and possibly stop early contractions from taking place.

A European study, published in the British Medical Journal in February 2002, found that preterm births fell from 7.1 percent in women who never consumed fish during pregnancy to 1.9 percent in women who ate fish at least once a week.

The current recommendation for fish oil is 200 milligrams a day. Women who are at risk for delivering early, like women who are pregnant with twins or conceived with in vitro fertilization, should consider taking fish oil supplements.

Fish Oil Can Prevent Preeclampsia

Another health benefit of fish oil in pregnancy is that it may help prevent preeclampsia – a pregnancy complication that is characterized by high blood pressure and a protein in your urine. If untreated, preeclampsia can lead to seizure, stroke, organ failure, and even death for the mother and her baby.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is scientific evidence that fish oil lowers high triglycerides (which are the fats that are linked to high cholesterol) and it can also lower blood pressure. A study, published in the May 1995 issue of the journal Epidemiology, found that pregnant women with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil and in eating fatty fish) were 7.6 times more likely to have preeclampsia, compared with women who had high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their system.

Miscarriage Prevention and Other Benefits of Fish Oil in Pregnancy

Some pregnant women take fish oil to prevent miscarriage. The link between miscarriage and fish oil is not well-known. Very few studies have looked into this link.

One small study, published in the journal Lupus in 1993, examined 22 women with antiphospholipid syndrome (a pregnancy complication that causes recurrent miscarriages). The researchers found that fish oil supplements did significantly reduce the risk of miscarriage. Out of the 22 women, who had a total of 23 pregnancies over the course of 3 years, 21 of those pregnancies produced healthy babies.

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