As pregnant mothers, we do all that we can to ensure our babies arrive healthy and happy into the world. During pregnancy, omega-3 is required to support foetal growth, particularly of the brain and eyes. DHA is a key nutrient during this stage, proven time and again in medical studies to deliver a range of benefits.
Reducing the incidence of pre-term birth1
Getting the unborn child to 34 weeks gestation is deemed a key time in baby survival. Two studies in Australia and the United States on over 2,700 children showed that increased maternal DHA intake, (in these trials achieved via supplementation) would lower the number of preterm births.
The Australian trial was a gold standard double blind randomized control trial (RCT) conducted between 2005 and 2009 with 2,399 expectant mothers consuming either 800mg DHA and 100mg/day EPA or a placebo capsule containing no DHA/EPA. Those already on DHA supplements were excluded from taking part in the trial.
The US trial, again a gold standard double-blind RTC on 350 pregnant women received either 600mg/day DHA via capsules or placebo vegetable oil capsules with no DHA.
The trials showed a reduction in pre-term birth by:
• 40% in the Australian trial and
• 64% in the US trial
The studies as a result recommended DHA supplementation to all pregnant women, “especially in countries where DHA intake is known to be low and pre-term birth rates are high”.
Maternal DHA intake during pregnancy supports the baby’s cognitive development through childhood2
Nyaradi et al’s paper published in 2013 looked at a number of studies assessing the impact of key nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, assessing brain development from pregnancy through childhood.60% of the brain’s dry weight is made up of lipids (fats) of which 20% are DHA and it is recognised that DHA intake is inadequate throughout life.
During the past 20 years, there have been multiple Epidemiological studies (the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why) that have shown the association between maternal DHA intake via seafood, often cited as a key source of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy, and cognitive development.
One study with over 7,000 British children, when assessed at 15 months showed higher language and social skills with higher maternal fish intake. Another showed lower levels of social, fine motor and language development skills when there was low seafood consumption.
Trials with the Inuit people, with a diet rich oily fish showed higher concentrations of DHA within the umbilical cord showed a number of benefits:
• Improved infant cognitive development at 6 and 11 months
• Better memory performance of schoolchildren
Multiple other trials were cited within this paper, all showing consistencies in the value of DHA intake on cognitive development.
Improved sight with increased DHA consumption during birth3
A study assessing the impact of additional omega-3 DHA consumption vs standard levels, showed that at 60 days, the babies of mothers that had consumed extra DHA had better levels of visual acuity. Visual acuity (VA) is a measure of the ability of the eye to distinguish shapes and the details of objects at a given distance.
If you look for ways to help support your child’s early development, omega-3 DHA is a must-have within your diet.
1Yelland et al, 2016. Predicting the effect of maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation to reduce early preterm birth in Australia and United States using results of within country randomised controlled trials. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2016 September; 112: 44-49, doi:10.1016/j.plefa.
2Nyaradi et al, 2013. The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. March 2013, Volume 7, Article 97.
3Innis, S and Friesen R, 2008. Essential n-3 fatty acids in pregnant women and early visual acuity maturation in term infants. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 87:548-57.