Pregnant women are being advised to consume omega-3 fatty acids in order to ensure proper development of the fetal neurological system. Even after birth, fish oil supplementation can improve the early development of a newborn’s brain, visual system, and motor function in women who breastfeed. These fish oils, most notably the fatty aciddocosahexaenoic acid (DHA)is part of a group of omega-3s known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The human brain is full of PUFAs that modulate inflammation and provide integrity to the neuronal network. By supplying a developing brain with plenty of PUFAs, a mother can support their child’s proper development. Along with benefits to the child, a pregnant mother that consumes fish oils can prevent pre-term labor, reduce the risk of pre-ecclampsia, and may even help in the prevention of post-pardum depression (PPD).
Another breakthrough in fish oil research shows that fish oil supplementation during pregnancy decreases the risk of a newborn developing eczema. In a study of 700 pregnant women, those who took fish oil supplements versus a placebo had a decreased incidence of infant eczema by three times. When DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) enter the cell membrane, they suppress inflammation that could potentially lead to various allergies and skin reactions that develop in early childhood. This study is ongoing as it plans to follow the children until age six to determine the extent of the lasting benefits.
If you want to start taking fish oils, the FDA recommends not exceeding the maximum dosage of 3000 mg of fish oil per day. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant and lactating women consume 500-1000 mg of fish oil per day ensuring that at least 300 mg are DHA. Although most capsules of fish oil supplements are 1000 mg, this does not indicate the amounts of actual fish oil (EPA and DHA) in each capsule, which is usually between 200-500 mg. Instead of taking a supplement, one can simply eat raw fish. The most EPA and DHA dense fish is salmon. Additionally, pregnant mothers should make sure they are getting their fish oils from a natural source free of heavy metals (mercury, BPA). To avoid heavy metal toxicity, avoid consuming fish that are high in the food chain (shark, swordfish), or be sure to purchase supplements from a reputable source with natural ingredients.