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Omega 3 & 6: Fatty Acids in Pregnancy

Understanding LCPs: Omega 3 and 6


Learn all about LCPs

Your baby’s brain forms and develops at an astounding rate throughout pregnancy. Omega 3 and 6 are two families of fatty acids that play an important role in this development, as well as contributing to the health of their heart. Learn about the benefits of these two fats, why they are often in the news and how to get the healthy balance you need.

Omega 3 helps to support:
Normal cognitive development 

Omega 3 helps to support:
Normal visual development 

Omega 3 helps to support:
Nervous system development 

What are LCPs?

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) are the building blocks of the fats (technically called lipids) that help the body function normally1. They are important for both your own health and your baby’s development throughout pregnancy.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are two families of LCPs that have been named essential fatty acids because the body is unable to make them, and they can only be obtained from the diet1.

“Omega 3 and 6 are important for health but because the body cannot make them, they are known as essential fatty acids – ones you have to include in your diet.”

As types of polyunsaturated fats, Omega 3 and 6 have different properties and different benefits for your baby. Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting enough Omega 3 in their diet2. Making an effort to include good sources of Omega 3 in your pregnancy diet will help to give your baby the best start for a healthy future.

Which fish contains more LCPs per 100g?


Omega 3: Supporting your baby’s heart, brain and vision

You may already know that Omega 3 can help reduce the risk of heart disease3. It also plays an important role in your baby’s rapidly developing brain4, as well as their nervous system4, and eyes4.

Omega 3 is recognised as an important nutrient for your baby’s normal cognitive development, to set the foundations for the way your baby learns, understands and thinks throughout life.

“Omega 3 has many benefits to your baby’s brain development during pregnancy and helps set the foundations for their learning skills throughout life.”

Research has shown that the potential long-term benefits to your baby of Omega 3 during pregnancy include:

  • A healthy birth weight4
  • Reduced risk of preterm delivery4
  • Reduced risk of your baby developing eczema later in life5
  • Healthier, stronger bones6,7
  • A positive effect on overall development, including verbal, motor and social skills7

Research shows that Omega 3 is especially important during late pregnancy and the first few months after birth4. As well as supporting your baby’s health and development, studies also suggest it may help to reduce your risk of antenatal8 and postnatal depression9. This is possibly due to healthier cell membranes allowing serotonin to flow better between cells, but this area is still being explored and the reasons are not yet fully understood10.

 Omega 3 and 6 are essential to support your baby’s heart, brain and vision both during pregnancy and after birth.

Omega 6: Getting a healthy balance

Omega 6 has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on heart health due to its ability to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood1. An adequate intake during pregnancy helps to build up your baby’s stores, ready for life after birth11.

In a healthy ratio, the two LCPs have been linked to reducing childhood asthma12. However, recent research shows that although, beneficial, high levels of Omega 6 can affect the body’s ability to use Omega 313. Vegetable oils and animal products are a key source of Omega 6, and because they are used in so many foods, we commonly consume more than we realise14.

Because of this, the benefits of Omega 6 have been thrown into question, with nutritionists continuing to study and debate the right quantity needed of this nutrient15.

The only way to get essential fatty acids is through your diet.

LCPs and your pregnancy diet

With vegetable oils being a good source of Omega 6, most people are getting plenty of this fatty acid without any effort15.

Most people, however, including mums-to-be, aren’t getting enough Omega 316.

Oily fish are the richest source of Omega 3. During pregnancy it’s recommended that you eat 2 portions per week for a healthy intake. But because these fish can contain potentially high levels of mercury, they are one of the foods to limit during pregnancy , so be careful not to eat more than this4.

Vegetarian sources include walnuts, Omega 3-enriched eggs, and flax seeds.

Fish sources of Omega 3 and their content17:

Next Steps

Try these Omega-3 rich meal and snack ideas:

  • Salmon nicoise salad
  • Sardines on toast
  • Grilled mackerel
  • A handful of walnuts
  • Omega 3-enriched egg mayonnaise on wholemeal bread

View references

Hide references

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1. British Nutrition Foundation. N-3 fatty acids and health [Online]. 2000. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

2. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother 2002;56(8):365-379.

3. NHS UK. Fish and shellfish [Online]. 2013. Available at: shellfish.aspx [Accessed June 2014]

4. Jensen CL. Effects of n− 3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(Suppl 6):S1452-1457.

5. Klemens CM et al. The effect of perinatal omega‐3 fatty acid supplementation on inflammatory markers and allergic diseases: a systematic review. BJOG 2011;118(8):916-925.

6. Koren N et al. Exposure to omega-3 fatty acids at early age accelerate bone growth and improve bone quality. J Nutr Biochem 2014;25(6):623-633.

7. British Nutrition Foundation. Nutrition and development, short and long-term consequences for health. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.p. 157.

8. Golding J et al. High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish. Epidemiol 2009;20(4):598-603.

9. Da Rocha CMM et al. High dietary ratio of omega‐6 to omega‐3 polyunsaturated acids during pregnancy and prevalence of post‐partum depression. Matern Child Nutr 2012;8(1):36-48.

10. Su, KP et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder during pregnancy: results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2008;69(4)644.

11. Koletzko B et al. The roles of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy: review of current knowledge and consensus recommendations. J Perinat Med 2008;36(1):5- 14.

12. Oddy WH et al. Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and childhood asthma. J Asthma 2004;41(3):319-326.

13. European food information council. The importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids [Online]. 2008. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

14. Blasbalg TL et al. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93(5):950-962.

15. Chowdhury R et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med 2014;160(6):398-406.

16. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother 2002;56(8)365-379.

17. Department of Health: Nutrient analysis of fish and fish products [Online]. 2013. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014
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