How Vital Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids During Pregnancy?
For many years, folate has been acknowledged as an essential nutrient during pregnancy and even before thanks to its ability to lower a baby’s risk of birth defects. But recently researchers have concluded that omega-3 fatty acids could have a similar effect on the strong development of a baby’s health. In a recent study, it was discovered that a certain type of omega-3 acids, known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), could improve the brain development in the unborn child. In fact, two further studies found that omega-3 fatty acids in pregnant women lower the risk of eczema and food allergies in their baby. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition praises the oils for their ability to produce children with better verbal intelligence and finer motor skills, as well as a higher pro-social behaviour. The study involved over 2000 women, who all supplied two blood samples – one at 20 weeks and one from the umbilical cord at birth. It was revealed that the amount of DHA transmitted to the foetus through the placenta could be vitally important for the development of the baby.
Researchers have also noted that these essential fatty acids could trigger the immune system to produce beneficial antibodies in the baby, which could fight food allergies. Though some of the studies taking place involved animals, researchers have confirmed that they give a great insight into the workings of the human gut, and as such the results are promising for pregnant women and the development of their unborn children. The latest findings promote the idea of taking a fish oil supplement alongside the usual pregnancy vitamins already advise. Nutritionist Lisa Guy recommends a good pregnancy multivitamin which contains 500mcg of folate, a good quality fish oil supplement, a probiotic and, if the women in question tests deficient for iron and vitamin D, a supplement for these nutrients as well. While folate remains the most important nutrient for foetal development, mega-3s shouldn’t be forgotten – they are essential for brain and nervous system development. Many countries don’t have a set daily dose for omega-3 fatty acids, but as a rule The Heart Foundation advises 500mg each day for healthy adults, or 3500mg a week. This may vary with each individual depending on other supplements you’re taking or health conditions you may have, so check with your GP before beginning with any supplements.
You don’t have to rely on supplements, though. You should top up any supplement with your diet to ensure that you and your baby have plenty of this healthy nutrient. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish, such as sardines, salmon, tuna and trout. All of these are safe to eat as they have low mercury levels. You should only eat oily fish three times a week though. For people who don’t eat fish, you’ll find smaller levels of omega-3s in ingredients such as soy milk, walnuts, tofu, eggs and fortified foods. As previously stated, you should check with your GP before embarking on any new diet – they will be able to advise which foods to steer clear of and which to top up your diet with. As a general rule, loading your diet with plenty of immune-boosting fruit and vegetables is the best way to go, as these are packed with vital vitamins and minerals that will help keep you healthy and improve your wellbeing, as well as boosting the development of your baby.