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.
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.
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.To find out more about Peter Click Here