Getting the right nutritional information can be a concern during pregnancy. Not only do you have to deal with morning sickness, bloating and ankle swelling, there’s also all the unsolicited advice you’ll receive from family, friends, and even total strangers.
The list of things you should or shouldn’t do, what you can eat and drink, and even which supplements you take is all scrutinised during this time, and the research that determines what is safe and what isn’t might appear to update and change all the time. This means that it can be really confusing to understand which advice is genuine and backed by scientific study.
One thing that is certain is the huge benefits to health and wellbeing that comes from having enough omega-3 fatty acids. We have spoken at length about their benefits for our physical and mental health, and how offering supplements to children can help in their growth and development. But does this mean that it is safe to take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy?
This guide will explore the various benefits of omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy, how this can affect your baby, and what to look out for when choosing a supplement.
Is Omega-3 safe during pregnancy?
Taking omega-3 supplements is not just safe during pregnancy, it is actively encouraged! This is because omega-3 is vital for your baby’s healthy development, and to keep pregnant mothers healthy too.
One type of omega-3 fatty acid is especially important during pregnancy. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is relied upon by every cell in the body, but especially for the development and maintenance of our brain, eyes and skin.
As our bodies cannot make DHA in large quantities, we have to get it from our diet. This is usually obtained from oily fish, such as herring or mackerel, so anyone that eats less than two portions of oily fish per week for any reason is encouraged to take a supplement, and this is indeed actively encouraged during pregnancy.
What does omega-3 help with during pregnancy?
There are several areas in which omega-3 supports foetal development, including the development of brain and eye tissue, the development of the nervous system, and ensuring a healthy weight at birth. It has also been shown to help prevent premature labour, and influence the development of cognitive function from birth through infancy.
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are advised to increase their intake of omega-3, taking at least 200mg of DHA per day or a combined total of 300-900mg of DHA and EPA, another form of omega-3 (Swanson, Block and Mousa, 2012). This is to ensure that your child’s development can continue in a healthy way, without causing a lack of omega-3 fatty acids for you.
Foetal development may suffer due to inadequate levels of DHA during pregnancy. Although the long term consequences are still under ongoing research, studies suggest that inadequate DHA intake during gestation may not just compromise foetal development, but also increase the likelihood of premature birth (Mulder, Elango and Innis, 2018) (Jackson and Harris, 2018).
It is also believed that adequate amounts of omega-3 during pregnancy may help to reduce the likelihood of perinatal depression. ‘Perinatal’ is the period of late pregnancy into early postpartum, so being able to reduce and alleviate the symptoms of depression is very much beneficial for mums to be. (Coletta, Bell and Roman, 2010) (Zhang et al., 2020).
Some studies suggest that omega-3 becomes even more important during the third trimester, which begins at week 27 of your pregnancy. DHA is a huge component in building healthy brain and eye tissues, making up around 97% of all omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, and 93% in the retinal tissue (Dyall, 2015). Intake of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, during the third trimester of pregnancy determines your baby’s initial levels, and how their brain develops. During gestation and infancy, your brain is particularly reliant on DHA for frontal lobe development (Tai, Wang and Chen, 2013).
Not only does Omega-3 help to support the growth of foetal brain and eye development, it has also been suggested that those who have higher levels of omega-3 during pregnancy might decrease the risk of cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD in their child (Strickland, 2014).
Low levels of DHA during infancy have been associated with various learning difficulties, and this may start before birth. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in mothers during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of poor neural development, which can cause developmental delays (Guesnet and Alessandri, 2011).
Your baby’s development journey is not complete at birth, and it is also suggested that, for the first 18 months of life, DHA for brain and eye growth and development remains as vital as it was during the third trimester, and it is now considered so important that many baby formulas are fortified with omega-3 (Greenberg, Bell and Ausdal, 2008).
What should I look out for when choosing an omega-3 supplement?
When you’re looking for an omega-3 supplement, it is important to consider the type of omega-3. It should contain DHA and EPA, as these are the most effective sources of omega-3, and the most useful during pregnancy.
It is preferable to use a plant-based supplement, as this provides a cleaner, more sustainable form of omega-3. A lot of fish-based products (and fish themselves) are contaminated with heavy metals, such as mercury, and other contaminants from polluted environments, which could be passed on to your baby if ingested. Look for a supplement which comes from algae oil and ditch the fish!
Vivo Life’s Vegan Liquid Omega-3 Supplement is a purer, cleaner, and more potent source of Omega-3 derived from algae, which provides 300mg of EPA and 600mg of DHA per serving, which is enough for both mother and baby. The liquid form bypasses the digestive system and is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream for maximum efficacy. All of our products are third party tested to ensure that they are 100% safe, free from herbicides, pesticides and the heavy metals associated with fish-based products.
As with any form of supplementation during pregnancy, always seek the advice of your healthcare provider to determine that your supplementation regime is going to be safe and effective.
Greenberg, J.A., Bell, S.J. and Ausdal, W.V. (2008). Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, [online] 1(4), pp.162–9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/.
Coletta, J.M., Bell, S.J. and Roman, A.S. (2010). Omega-3 Fatty acids and pregnancy. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, [online] 3(4), pp.163–71. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3046737/.
Zhang, M.-M., Zou, Y., Li, S.-M., Wang, L., Sun, Y.-H., Shi, L., Lu, L., Bao, Y.-P. and Li, S.-X. (2020). The efficacy and safety of omega-3 fatty acids on depressive symptoms in perinatal women: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Translational Psychiatry, 10(1). doi:10.1038/s41398-020-00886-3.
Mulder, K.A., Elango, R. and Innis, S.M. (2018). Fetal DHA inadequacy and the impact on child neurodevelopment: a follow-up of a randomised trial of maternal DHA supplementation in pregnancy. British Journal of Nutrition, 119(3), pp.271–279. doi:10.1017/s0007114517003531.
Dyall, S.C. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, [online] 7, p.52. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052.
Guesnet, P. and Alessandri, J.-M. (2011). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the developing central nervous system (CNS) - Implications for dietary recommendations. Biochimie, [online] 93(1), pp.7–12. doi:10.1016/j.biochi.2010.05.005.