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Babies Should Get Fish Oil in the Womb
Research in the Journal of Perinatology shows that children of mothers who consumed fish oil daily after the 18th week of pregnancy and during early breast-feeding performed better in terms of IQ at the age of four.
The researchers, who reviewed all the scientific evidence on the effects of fish oil during pregnancy and lactation, also found that eating fish significantly lowered the risk of the baby being born with cerebral palsy, therefore appearing to have a long-term positive impact on the central nervous system function of the child.
The health and well-being of the child in the short and long-term appears to be improved by adequate amounts of Omega 3 during foetal and post-natal, development; they concluded.
Omega 3 fatty acids play an important part in the development of the central nervous system in mammals. The last three months of pregnancy are thought to be a key time for intake of fish oil because there is a growth spurt in the human brain during the last trimester which carries on into the first few months of a babys life.
Fish oil taken during pregnancy may also reduce the risk of the baby developing Type 1 diabetes. But as well as the benefits to the child, the study found that fish oils could help mums-to-be in a number of ways, including reducing high blood pressure and easing postnatal depression.
Around six per cent of women suffer from high blood pressure during pregnancy, and research shows that pregnant women with the lowest levels of Omega 3 fatty acids were 7.6 times more likely to have pre-eclampsia than those with the highest levels. A 15 per cent increase led to a 46 per cent drop in risk.
Research also shows that Inuit women, with their high consumption of fish, have a very low incidence of pregnancy-related high blood pressure. Another study investigating seafood and risk of pre-term delivery found that women who never consumed fish had a 7.1 per cent chance of having a premature baby, while in those who ate fish at least once a week, the risk was 1.9 per cent.
Other research found that mothers-to-be who consumed 4g of fish oil a day from the 30th week lengthened the pregnancy and increased birth weight. Meanwhile researchers have found that women with lower levels of DHA, a compound found in fatty acids such as Omega 3, in their breast milk had a higher rate of depression.
Current advice from the Food Standards Agency is that pregnant and breast-feeding women can eat between one and two portions of oily fish a week (a portion is 140g). The agency also advises pregnant women to avoid shark, marlin and swordfish, and not to eat large amounts of tuna. Potentially harmful contaminants such dioxins, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have been found in some species of fish.
The researchers say there has been an 80 per cent decline in the average intake of fatty acids over the past century, a time when the prevalence of many childhood diseases has increased. They recommend that routine supplements of Omega 3 oils should be considered during pregnancy and breast-feeding.