Omega-3 in pregnancy
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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.
As types of polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 have varying properties and different benefits for your baby.
Why is omega-3 important during pregnancy?
You may already know that omega-3 can help reduce the risk of heart disease2. It also plays an important role in your baby’s rapidly developing brain, as well as their nervous system and eyes3. Omega-3 has many benefits to your baby’s brain development during pregnancy and helps set the foundation for their learning skills throughout life.
Research has shown that the potential long-term benefits of omega-3 include:
- A healthy birth weight3
- Reduced risk of preterm delivery3
- Reduced risk of your baby developing eczema later in life4
- Healthier, stronger bones5
Research also shows that omega-3 is especially important during late pregnancy and the first few months after birth3. As well as supporting your baby’s health and development, studies suggest it may help to reduce your risk of antenatal6 and postnatal depression7.
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 understood8.
Why is omega-6 important during pregnancy?
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 blood9. In a healthy ratio, the two LCPs are also linked to reducing childhood asthma10.
While most people get healthy levels of omega-6 without any effort12, many people, including mums-to-be, may not be getting enough omega-313.
How much omega-3 do you need when you’re pregnant?
There’s no absolute rule about how much omega-3 you need during pregnancy. The best advice is to eat up to two portions of oily fish per week or include a good vegetarian or vegan source of omega-3 to your diet every day, such as two teaspoons of flaxseed oil.
Fish oil in pregnancy
While the NHS advises that fish oils with omega-3 supplements are safe to take during pregnancy, you should avoid taking any supplements that contain fish liver, such as cod liver oil16. Cod liver oil and other liver oils contain vitamin A or retinol, which in high doses, can harm your unborn baby16.
Supplements to avoid include:
- Fish liver oil supplements, such as cod liver oil.
- High-dose multivitamin supplements.
- Any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol).
Omega-3 foods for pregnancy
The richest source of omega-3 is oily fish. During pregnancy, it’s recommended that you eat up to two portions (140g is one portion) per week for a healthy intake14. But because oily fish can contain pollutants or mercury, they are one of the foods to limit during pregnancy15. Read more about eating fish during pregnancy.
Good vegetarian sources of omega-3 include walnuts, omega 3-enriched eggs, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, leafy green vegetables and soy products like tofu.
Fish sources of omega-3 and their content15:
|Food (100g)||Nutrient quantity (100g)|
Snacks and meals which are rich in omega-3
Try these tasty ideas to boost your omega-3 intake:
- Salmon & haddock sweet potato pie
- Sardines on toast.
- Grilled mackerel.
- A handful of walnuts.
- Omega 3-enriched eggs with corn and courgette fritters
- British Nutrition Foundation. N-3 fatty acids and health [Online]. 2000. Available at: http://nutrition.org.uk/attachments/156_n-3%20Fatty%20acids%20and%20health%20summary.pdf [Accessed February 2020]
- NHS UK. Fish and shellfish [Online]. 2018. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/fish- shellfish.aspx [Accessed February 2020]
- Jensen CL. Effects of n− 3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(Suppl 6):S1452-1457.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Last reviewed: 28th July 2020
Reviewed by Nutricia’s Medical and Scientific Affairs Team
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