Omega 3 And Pregnant And Nursing Mothers Archives

You’re pregnant and want to take fish oil. Pregnancy though, may be different.

It’s a common question. Should you take fish oil during pregnancy? Of course if you’re pregnant you’ve got 2 to think of before you decide to take Omega 3 supplements. Pregnancy is a special condition for this reason.

The first thing to say always when talking about fish oil in pregnancy is to see your doctor. There’s all sorts of considerations that may be particular to you, and a doctor knows about those considerations. We can only talk about Omega 3 during pregnancy from a general perspective, not specifically in relation to you.

There’s a 2 different questions to ask here. Is fish oil safe during pregnancy? And are there benefits to taking fish oil during pregnancy? Because there’s no reason to take it even if it’s safe if there’s no benefits.

Question number 1. Is fish oil safe during pregnancy?

There is no clear evidence of any risks from taking fish oil in pregnancy, other than the regular, though very limited, side effects. These are, as long as you take no more than the recommended dosage, the risk of some reflux or “fishy burps”, perhaps some temporary stomach upset and perhaps a fishy taste in the mouth. These are rare, not dangerous and usually go away.Omega 3 Pregnancy

For people with some specific medical conditions there is a slightly more elevated risk, particularly of some bleeding, so if you have a particular medical condition then you should, as we always say, consult your doctor. In fact all pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking any supplements.

There are even people who look for pregnancy safe fish oil supplements, but these are not necessary and we don’t know of any Omega 3 supplements with a particular formulation to be “pregnancy safe”. All should be safe.

That’s the answer. No evidence of any particular risks to taking Omega 3 during pregnancy. Except………..

The government issues warnings about pregnant women eating too much fish, because there are some concerns about toxic contamination of fish. And some fish oil supplements HAVE been found to contain concerning amounts of contamination, coming, presumably, from contaminated fish, as you will see from that article.

However the very best fish oil supplements are entirely clean, as evidenced by their Certificate of Analysis (ie chemical analysis of the fish oil). And it”s updated for each batch of fish oil they use, so is up to date all the time.

Not many fish oil capsule manufacturers put an independent Certificate of Analysis on their website. I wonder why?

Question number 2. Is it beneficial to take fish oil supplements during pregnancy?

This is really 2 questions. Is it beneficial to the mother, and is it beneficial to the baby?

Yes it should be beneficial to the mother because there is so much evidence of the benefits of Omega 3 to the health. We’ve gone into them elsewhere on our site. But what about the baby?

Like all these things it’s hard to say what is proven and what is not. There are plenty of studies showing benefits of fish oil supplementation to developing babies, but at what point are those benefits proven? Hard to say.

Lets look at what some of the studies say. Firstly in relation to fetal brain development. The brain is made up of a large percentage of fat, and a large percentage of that fat is DHA, an Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in fish and fish oil supplements.

As the fetus develops it needs essential fatty acids to do so, including to develop it’s brain. These are not made in the body, and so are only available from the food that the mother eats. If she eats plenty of good Omega 3 rich fish then the fetus may get enough. Is she doesn’t it may not.

Studies have concluded that there are benefits to the brain development of the fetal brain. This results, according to some studies, in improvements in childhood coordination including hand/eye coordination, as well as improvements in mental acuity, comprehension and vocabulary.

Other studies have shown that children with ADHD had less DHA in their systems than those without. But whether this comes from pregnancy or later isn’t clear.

And studies have also shown that children of mothers who took fish oil pregnancy had better sleep patterns as infants.

It is thought that the third trimester is the most important time for taking fish oil in pregnancy, as this is when the brain is developing the most. It has been found that preterm infants have low levels of DHA because they have not gone full term so had all the benefits of the last 3 months of brain development and build up of brain DHA. So this suggests also that Omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy should not be just confined to the third trimester but should be undertaken right through pregnancy.

And there are also studies showing that low Omega 3 levels in pregnancy can lead to premature births and low birth weights.

Overall there is very strong evidence of the benefits of Omega 3 supplements in pregnancy. As we say it’s hard to say when it’s fully proven, but the evidence is very strong.
Fish Oil Pregnancy

We conclude with a quote from an article in the New Scientist (Feb 07)

“children whose mothers ate the least amount of seafood during pregnancy showed the worst performance on tests of social development and verbal IQ”

Should you get your Omega 3 fats from fish or from supplements?

There’s plenty of government warnings against eating too much fish generally, but particularly during pregnancy, because of the toxins now found in fish, like mercury. That’s not to say eat no fish, but the only safe way to get daily DHA and other Omega 3 fats in pregnancy is to take the best fish oil supplements money can buy.

Note that not all fish oil supplements are the same, read our article about comparing Omega 3 supplements to find out more.


What we’ve discussed here isn’t all, though it’s getting pretty long. Here’s a list of some of the other benefits of fish oil pregnancy that have been suggested by the studies. These are benefits to the mother, not the baby.

1. Lower risk of postpartum depression.

2. Reduced risk of breast cancer.

3. Lower risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

4. Reduced risk of a cesarean birth.


1. One other important point to make is this. One of the most important factors in the development of infants is breast feeding. The infant gets his DHA, once born, through his food. So through mothers milk. If the mother is deficient in DHA this will result in less to the infant, good reasons to take fish oil supplements after pregnancy.

2. When referring to fish oil supplements we are not referring to cod liver oil. There are specific issues associated with excess vitamin A in cod liver oil and it is not generally recommended for this reason.

In our view there is clear evidence for the benefits of fish oil. Pregnancy is no different, except that there are 2 people getting the benefits, the mother, and the soon to be infant.

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Gradually the evidence supporting fish oil supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding is getting stronger and stronger.

There is plenty of evidence that a sufficient intake the important essential fatty acids DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) years essential to good health amongst adults. Browse some of the articles under the categories on the right to find out more about the benefits of fish oil supplementation on various health conditions.

However there is also growing evidence of the importance of an adequate supply of the essential fatty acids to a fetus and growing baby during pregnancy and the first few years of life, (and for the rest of life as well).

Today we specifically want to examine the issue of fish oil supplements during pregnancy and during the first few years. Will a baby, or fetus, benefit from increasing the intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids in those important first few months and years of life?Fish Oil and Pregnancy

There is now clear evidence of the importance of sufficient levels of the Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on the health of a human being almost from conception. Studies have shown improvements in mental development and other important areas of cognitive development where the infant has adequate levels of DHA and EPA.

For instance the University of Adelaide in Australia has demonstrated in a six-year study that high doses of DHA can help the mental development of infants. This study examined infants which were born premature.

It was found that premature babies have low levels of DHA which increased the possibility of impaired mental development.

The amount of DHA supplied to the infants was supplemented, in the case of breastfeeding mothers by giving and fish oil capsules, and in the case of bottle fed infants by using a formula with high levels of DHA added.

Babies, and in particular premature girls, who had a DHA rich diet showed better mental development than those that did not. Refer below for a link to the study.

Science Daily also reported that the reason researchers suspect that premature infants are deficient in DHA is because they will miss out on the DHA supplied to them during pregnancy in the 3rd trimester, where much of the DHA necessary for mental and brain development is acquired.

Canadian researchers also found that supplementing the food of preterm babies with DHA supplements, both in breastmilk and bottled milk, will increase the levels of DHA in preterm infants.

It is now generally considered that breastfed infants have better mental development than those which are bottle fed. Another study reported in science daily has now found that using DHA fortified formula on infants resulted in those infants doing better on a problem-solving test. The reason suspected is that breast milk contains some DHA whereas regular formula does not.

Part of the conclusion of the study was that “our results clearly suggest that feeding infants formula supplemented with high concentrations of DHA provides beneficial effects on cognitive development”.

These studies go further towards confirming a link between increased intake of the essential fatty acids known as the omega 3 fats by a mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding and superior mental development in a fetus and infant.

And that DHA fortified formula may provide better developmental outcomes in infants than regular formula.

And of course the best way for pregnant or nursing mothers to increase their intake of DHA and EPA cost effectively and safely is to take fish oil supplements, particularly given that due to the Mercury contamination of many species of fish pregnant women are often advised to avoid eating a lot of fish.

However always remember, if you’re pregnant or nursing mother you should always consult your doctor first.

Like all these things there will be ongoing research for many years to come. Currently some medical professionals still advise against Omega 3 supplementation for pregnant or nursing mothers, however the evidence supported of Omega 3 supplementation to these women is becoming stronger and stronger.

To read the reports of the 3 studies quoted please see the links below.

Report of Study 1

Report of Study 2

Report of Study 3

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DHA is in fish oil. Breastfeeding mothers ought also have enough of it in their milk.

For quite some time now the benefits of breastfeeding have been well recognized. However it is now becoming equally well recognized that there are many benefits to a growing baby from an adequate consumption of DHA. Breastfeeding is how a growing baby sources it’s DHA, the most important Omega 3 essential fatty acid.

There are 2 principal Omega 3 essential fatty acids, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) that are now well recognized as essential to the health of all people, including growing babies and even including fetuses. An adequate intake of DHA is very important for the health of a growing fetus right from day one and we have written about the importance of an adequate intake of Omega 3 during pregnancy.

But maintaining an adequate supply of Omega 3 fats for the mother should not just stop at the end of pregnancy and birth of the baby. One of the most important breastfeeding tips is for the mother to maintain an adequate intake of DHA and EPA for the health of the growing baby during breastfeeding.

Omega 3 essential fatty acids are not produced in the body and the only source of these essential fats is food. Of course the only food that a baby eats is milk, and for breastfed babies it is breastmilk. So if DHA and EPA are important to the development of growing babies then it’s essential that they be found in the mothers breastmilk. This is one of the most important aspect of breastfeeding. Diet is very important to all of us, including babies.

Why is it essential that a baby get an adequate supply of DHA from breastfeeding? DHA is very important for a range of reasons including improving learning ability, improving memory, improving vision and more.

Here’s a quote from the website of Dr. Bruce Holub, a noted Emeritus professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelf, and previous president of the Nutrition Society of Canada.
Fish Oil and Breastfeeding

“Supplementation of breast-feeding women with 200 mg DHA/day for four months after delivery resulted in higher circulating levels of DHA in their blood plasma phospholipid and higher scores on the Bayley Psychomotor Development Index at 30 months of age. Positive relationships have also been reported for high levels of DHA in mothers’ milk and visual development in term infants as well as optimized arousal in newborn infants.

A Norwegian study indicated that women who supplemented their diet with 1183 mg DHA and 803 mg EPA per day for a 3 month period after delivery, after supplementing at a similar level from week 18 of pregnancy, gave rise to young children at four years of age who exhibited more favourable mental development based on the augmentation of their IQ assessments.”

Studies have shown that the average American, in fact over 90 percent of us, are deficient in the important Omega 3 essential fatty acids. These important fats are found in fish. A diet high in fish and other seafoods should produce adequate levels of Omega3 fats in the body, however almost none of us eat sufficient fish for this to be the case.

It is possible to get an Omega 3 fat, called ALA, from plant sources however this is nowhere near as beneficial as DHA and EPA and a diet high in plants containing ALA is not sufficient to produce sufficient Omega3 fats, including DHA, in the breastmilk.

DHA is found in fish oil. Breastfeeding mothers should not eat too much fish for reasons of contamination however the best way to get an adequate dietary intake of DHA is taking fish oil supplements. The best ones, (though not all) are contamination free, are relatively cost-effective and can be taken daily. By taking daily supplements of fish oil breastfeeding mothers can ensure adequate levels of DHA in their milk.

As can be seen there are significant benefits to growing babies from the essential Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil. Breastfeeding mothers ought be aware of the importance of maintaining a daily intake of DHA and EPA.

As noted the best way to do this is taking daily fish oil capsules. Omega 3 supplements are a simple, inexpensive and safe way to maintain adequate levels of Omega3 fats. However it is also important to note that not all Omega 3 capsules are as good as others.

There are wide variations in the amount of DHA present in the different brands of fish oil capsules and also variations in the effectiveness of the fish oils.

We have also written an article on how to compare fish oil capsules if you wish to read it.

It’s never too late to start and if you’re a breastfeeding mother, even if you’re not doing it now, you ought to begin supplementing your diet with fish oil. Breastfeeding mothers should be doing this as a matter of course right from birth, after 9 months of omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy.

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