Supplements in pregnancy
In pregnancy, the consequences of a poor maternal diet or any nutrient deficiencies can be extremely serious for both mother and baby. The fetus is at high risk from the lack of specific micronutrients during pregnancy. This is why it's important to maintain a healthy diet throughout your pregnancy.
For this reason, pregnant women are advised not to take omega-3 supplements because they may contain unsafe levels of contaminants such as mercury. As well as being harmful to the developing baby in its early stages, these contaminants have been linked with higher rates of autism and ADHD.
In order to prevent birth defects associated with vitamin deficiency, doctors advise that expecting mothers should take folic acid and iodine supplements.
It is also best to ensure that you get all the necessary vitamins and minerals from your diet - rather than taking a supplement - because it's understandable that not everybody has the time or the money to eat a nutritionally balanced diet.
However, if you are unable to take folic acid or omega-3 rich foods such as fish during your pregnancy, speak with your doctor about whether you should take supplements instead.
Why is Omega-3 Fish Oil Important During Pregnancy?
Omega-3 fish oil is one of the most important micronutrients for health, especially during pregnancy.
Two essential fatty acids are necessary to ensure that your baby's brain, eyes, and nervous system develop properly - these are omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid.
Your body cannot produce these fatty acids on its own, therefore they must be obtained from food sources or supplements. However, it has been found that only 20% of pregnant women in the U.S take an omega-3 supplement.
Why You Need Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements During Pregnancy
There are many reasons why you should consider taking an omega-3 supplement during pregnancy.
A study conducted at Tufts University showed that children whose mothers took supplements containing omega-3 DHA oil had a verbal IQ score almost 10 points higher compared to children of mothers who did not take any supplements. Overall, their cognitive skills were better than those whose mothers consumed large amounts of omega-6 arachidonic acid (found in meat and dairy products).
It is also beneficial to take an omega 3 supplement because it seems to enhance brain development for the unborn baby's language, memory, and problem-solving skills. This is probably due to its ability to increase neuron cell membranes so they can form more synaptic connections with other neurons.
These neuronal connections are where neurotransmitters are stored, making them readily available for the signal to cross from one neuron to another.
Omega 3s also help promote balanced moods and emotions during pregnancy. Another study showed that women who consumed higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids had significantly less depressive symptoms compared with those who did not take supplements.
This is an important benefit because depression can have a negative impact on both mother and baby. For example, it has been linked to preterm birth, meaning your baby could be born earlier than expected. Research has also found that there is a link between postpartum depression in mothers and antisocial behavior in children later on in life.
It shows that these essential fatty acids are vital throughout your entire pregnancy, including before you conceive - as many of the health benefits are linked to the baby's brain development in the early stages of pregnancy.
Cautions With Taking Omega-3 Supplements During Pregnancy
Although omega-3 is something expectant mothers should consider taking, there are some cautions that need to be taken into account before you start popping these supplements down.
Most importantly, it's vital that pregnant women only take DHA-rich supplements. This is because it seems that too much omega-6 (arachidonic acid) fatty acids can increase inflammation and therefore damage the placenta. A review found that too much arachidonic acid could lead to low birth weight, preterm birth, or even stillbirth.
There were also links between high blood pressure during pregnancy and high levels of arachidonic acid. Taking between 1.1-4g per day of omega-3 supplements was found to be safe, but more than this can increase the risk of bleeding.
Another point to consider is that fish oil supplements are not recommended for women who are at risk of getting a blood clot because they may interfere with blood-thinning drugs.
It's also important to note that you shouldn't be taking too much fish oil if you're trying to conceive, as there is still some debate about how much DHA you need during this time. Some doctors advise that 600mg per day isn't harmful, whereas others aren't so sure due to its possible effects on fertility. It could even affect sperm quality.
It is a good idea to work with your doctor when planning your omega-3 supplement intake during pregnancy, in order to ensure you're getting the correct balance of essential fatty acids into your diet.
Omega 3 and Female Fertility
Taking an omega-3 supplement while trying to conceive may also boost your fertility. Research by the University of South Australia shows that women taking supplements containing DHA had a 28 percent higher pregnancy rate than those not taking any supplements.
Another study found that premenopausal women who took DHA oils for six months before starting IVF increased their chances of having a baby, and they were able to do so at lower doses than previously thought. However, it's important to note that this research makes no reference as to whether this is also the case in postmenopausal women.
It appears that DHA supplementation can help improve egg quality and increase levels of progesterone which is vital in order for a fertilized egg implantation to occur. This means that taking DHA supplements before and during IVF could be beneficial in helping you to conceive.
Age-Related Fertility Issues
As women age, their risk of infertility increases. This is due to a variety of reasons including the reduced number and quality of eggs remaining in the ovaries, which can lead to reduced fertility.
There is evidence that suggests that reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids may be partly responsible for this issue.
Research has found that there are significant changes in the lipid profile (the types of fats) in women's blood as they get older. Those with higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids had lower ovarian reserves than those who had higher levels of DHA, so additional supplementation could help reduce fertility issues linked to aging.
We, therefore, think it would be beneficial for both younger and older women to supplement with omega-3, especially if they are trying to conceive.
If you're struggling to get pregnant, talk with your doctor about the best supplements for you, but it could be a good idea to include high-quality omega 3 in pregnancy along with extra doses of vitamin D.
Omega-3s and Inflammatory Reproductive Issues
Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and therefore may be beneficial in managing conditions such as endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the womb starts to grow outside the uterus, often onto other organs, and can cause lesions, scarring, and even infertility. A study found that DHA supplementation led to a decrease in levels of one marker of oxidative stress and inflammatory responses which were also linked to a lower risk of getting endometriosis.
Fish oil supplements have also been shown to reduce inflammation, such as prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances involved in processes such as pain perception and menstrual cramps.
Taking omega 3 with vitamin E has been found to be particularly effective at reducing endometriosis symptoms, which suggests that it could be a good supplement to consider if you're experiencing problems conceiving due to endometriosis.
Omega-3 Fish Oil & Preterm Delivery
There is also some evidence showing that high omega-3 intake may reduce the risk of preterm birth. Researchers examined the effects of fish oil supplementation between 18 and 22 weeks in pregnant women who were considered to be at risk for preterm delivery (due to having experienced it before or other pregnancy complications) and found that taking fish oils reduced premature birth rates by around 50 percent.
It's important to note, however, that this study makes no reference as to whether there are similar benefits when taken during the first trimester. Therefore, if you're planning on taking a fish oil supplement from conception onwards for its fertility boosting properties you should discuss it with your doctor.
Omega 3 & Male Fertility
Studies have shown that high doses of omega-3 fats can improve sperm quality.
In one study, researchers compared the effects of fish oil supplements and flaxseed oil (a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid) on male fertility. Men who took fish oils had a significant increase in omega 3 levels as well as improvements in sperm motility, morphology, and concentration. Flaxseed oil didn't have the same benefits, suggesting that fish oils are definitely a better option for improving sperm quality.
The research is still out as to whether taking high doses of omega-3 fats from conception onwards has any influence on egg quality or IVF success rates. However, some women have reported it helping with fertility issues so you may wish to try this if you're experiencing problems conceiving.
Pregnancy-friendly omega 3s and other important notes
It's best to choose a fish oil supplement that is free of contaminants such as mercury, dioxins, and pesticides, as these can be harmful during pregnancy. Pregnant women should aim for 1000mg DHA per day (combined with 400 IU vitamin D). If you're not pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant soon, this dose will still improve your overall health and therefore may also indirectly help you conceive.
If you've been taking omega 3 supplements to boost your fertility it might take some time for your body to get back into the habit of ovulating regularly after stopping, so don't worry if you don't see any results immediately. Also, note that there are no fertility benefits to taking omega 3 supplements in the form of flaxseed oil.
It's best not to take fish oil supplements when you are taking oral contraceptives or are pregnant/breastfeeding, unless under medical supervision. Also note that there is no need for vegetarians to supplement with DHA as they can easily get it from plant-based foods such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
The Role of Omega-3s in Pre-eclampsia Prevention
Research shows that omega 3 fats may also help reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs such as swelling. In this study, women with higher levels of DHA in their bloodstream were significantly less likely to go on to develop pre-eclampsia than those without.
Preterm labor is another issue affecting pregnant women which can have negative consequences. One recent study found that omega 3 supplements had positive effects on the health of babies born prematurely when given to women from the 24th week of pregnancy. In fact, babies who received fish oil supplements were 28% less likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit.
Other research suggests that DHA supplementation reduces the length of labor in pregnant women by up to around two hours, which can significantly reduce stress and pain experienced during this time. Omega 3 may also help boost a baby's brain development, making it a good idea for both you and your baby if you're looking for ways to improve your chances of conceiving quickly.
In contrast, previous research has found no 'direct' adverse effects on either mother or child associated with omega 3 oils during pregnancy, but there is evidence that suggests that taking excessively high doses can lead to bleeding during pregnancy. This is why it's important that you stick within the guidelines of your doctor or midwife, particularly if there are any pre-existing conditions present.
The Role of Omega 3s in Prevention of Maternal Depression
Omega 3 fats have also been found to reduce the risk of depression and other mental health problems in mothers following the birth of their child. The study linked higher levels of RBC EPA (one type omega 3) with a lower risk, but supplementation appears to be more effective when given after giving birth. The researchers believe that this could indicate that omega-3 can effectively help reduce postnatal depression (PND). Omega 3 has also been shown to improve neurological development in offspring, especially when supplemented close to birth, potentially reducing the chances of developmental disorders occurring.
For women who have already been diagnosed with depression, omega-3s appear to reduce depressive symptoms. Note that you should be under the care of a doctor when considering taking an omega 3 supplement.
Altering Your Diet
There are also other ways that you can increase your intake of essential fatty acids without having to take any supplements. These include eating more oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts, taking cod liver oil capsules, or eating more green leafy vegetables. If you struggle to eat enough of these foods on a regular basis, then supplements may be beneficial.
However, there is still much debate as to what exactly is an optimum level of omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy, so it's important to seek medical advice when planning your intake.
If you're vegan or vegetarian, you can take DHA supplements made from microalgae, although they are often sold under fish oil-based names on the assumption that consumers are only interested in the omega 3 content.
Research on Vegetarian Omega 3 Intake
The amount of omega 3 taken is important when supplementing during pregnancy. An analysis of research studies found that while vegans were able to obtain adequate levels of ALA (an essential fatty acid), they had low levels of EPA and DHA. These types of fats are what have been linked with providing some protection against pre-eclampsia and premature labor. It's therefore particularly important for pregnant women who avoid animal products to make sure they obtain adequate DHA through plant foods such as flaxseeds.
Omega 3s & Baby Health
While focusing on getting your omega-3 intake up when trying to become pregnant, it's also important to consider the impact this will have on your baby once he or she is born.
Research suggests that pregnant women with high blood levels of DHA tend to give birth earlier, but this doesn't affect the weight of the baby. This means that you could possibly increase your chances of conceiving sooner by ensuring your daily intake is adequate.
It appears that there are many benefits for babies whose mothers supplement their diet with omega-3 while pregnant. It can help reduce in infants, according to research. It also helps to increase their IQ, but taking supplements while pregnant does not appear to have the same effect on older children. However, babies who are breastfed for longer tend to score higher in intelligence tests, so I would recommend breastfeeding if you can.
In fact, a study found that women who supplemented with omega 3 while pregnant had children with better hand-eye coordination, although it's important to note that this finding was correlational rather than directly causal.
Conclusion on Safety of Omega 3 Supplementation
If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, it's important that you do not take any omega 3 supplements without first consulting with your doctor and erring on the side of caution. This is due to the fact that taking excessively high levels can increase the risk of bleeding and therefore potentially harm your baby. Studies have shown no adverse effects for mother or child associated with omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy, but there are some possible risks so seek medical advice before beginning a routine of taking these types of supplements.