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Omega-3 supplements during pregnancy reduce the risk of premature delivery



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Pregnant women who increase their intake of omega-3 long chain fatty acids are less likely to have premature births, according to a Cochrane study published today.

Most tasks last between 38 and 42 weeks, but if a child reaches 37 weeks, the chances of poor health for the child increase.

The sooner the baby is born, the higher the risk of poor health and a small number of children do not survive.

Some premature babies have to spend their first weeks or months of living in special hospital intensive care units. Premature babies may develop conditions that last a lifetime, including problems with the lungs, intestine and the immune system, as well as loss of vision and hearing.

Problems with behavior and learning are also more common in babies born too early. These consequences lead to substantial costs for health systems and preterm families.

What I found?

The Cochrane review, led by our research team at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, included 70 randomized studies with nearly 20,000 women.

It found an increase in the daily intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy:

reduces the risk of having a premature baby (birth before 37 weeks) by 11%, from 134 to 1000 to 119 per 1000 births

reduces the risk of having a preterm premature baby (birth before 34 weeks) by 42%, from 46 to 1,000 to 27 per 1000 births.

Most studies were conducted in high income countries (Australia, the United States, England, the Netherlands and Denmark) and included women at both normal risk and at high risk for poor pregnancy outcomes. Most women studied were pregnant with a baby.

Studies have generally used supplements containing docosahexaenoic acid with omega-3 long chain fatty acids (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

The risk of premature birth

The causes of premature birth are not yet well understood. But we know that when a pregnant woman starts work, strong hormones called prostaglandins abstain.

Sometimes women produce large amounts of prostaglandins, and those produced from omega-6 fat can give birth too early.

So where does omega-3 come in?

In the 1980s, researchers noted that women in Denmark had shorter pregnancies and premature babies than their neighbors in the Faroe Islands who eat a lot more fish. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids seem to be responsible – it is believed to help prevent premature births by reducing the potency of prostaglandins that can trigger early childbirth.

Our review shows that supplementing with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy is one of the few safe and effective strategies to prevent premature death and premature birth.

Fish or supplements?

Most of the studies included in this Cochrane review that reported on premature delivery used omega-3 supplements rather than dietary changes.

It is difficult to get the omega-3 long chain fatty acids used in many food-only studies unless you regularly consume fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel. To get the recommended amount of DHA that has been used in many studies, you'll need to eat at least two or three 150g salmon serums each week.

The advice for pregnant women expecting a single baby is to consume daily fish oil supplements containing at least 500 mg of DHA starting with 12 weeks of pregnancy. The supplement should not contain more than 1000 mg of DHA + EPA. There does not seem to be any additional benefit for higher doses.

This advice is currently integrated into national guidelines of clinical practice on pregnancy.

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