Increased intake of omega-3 long-chain fatty acids during pregnancy has been found to reduce the risk of premature birth.
The Cochrane review into Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy was conducted by SAHMRI’s Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children theme in collaboration with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the University of Adelaide.
University of Adelaide Professor Maria Makrides, theme leader and deputy director of SAHMRI, says evidence from the Cochrane review shows daily omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of birth before 37 weeks by 11 per cent, and reduces the risk of birth before 34 weeks by 42 per cent.
“This is an extremely promising finding because we now have strong evidence that omega-3 supplements are a simple and cost-effective intervention to prevent premature birth, which we know has serious health implications,” Professor Makrides said.
“Premature birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under five years of age.
“Premature babies are at greater risk of chronic issues with their respiratory, immune and digestive systems and they’re more susceptible to problems with speech, social skills, learning and behaviour.”
Professor Makrides’ team suggests women expecting a single baby begin taking a daily dose of omega-3s at the 12-week stage of their pregnancy. The supplement needs to contain between 500 and 1000 milligrams of omega-3 with at least 500 milligrams of the omega-3 called DHA.
“A large number of women already take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy since they’re found in a number of over-the-counter pregnancy supplements,” Professor Makrides said.
“By increasing their omega-3 intake, women can give themselves the best chance of carrying their baby to full term of 40 weeks.
“Even a few extra days in the womb can make a substantial difference when it comes to your baby’s health.”
South Australian Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade, congratulated the researchers on their work, saying a reduction in premature births would have widespread benefits for the community.
“Supporting premature babies in intensive care and treating ongoing challenges related to premature birth places significant pressure on families, the community and the health system,” Minister Wade said.
“The evidence from this review is both exciting and compelling, and something that needs to be investigated further.”
The Cochrane Review assessed the combined results of 70 trials involving almost 20,000 women around the world.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Addition During Pregnancy is published in The Cochrane Library.
(Source: The University of Adelaide, The Cochrane Library)