Why Omega 3 Fatty Acids Matter For Baby And Mum

When it comes to pregnancy and post-partum health, we are all aware that a healthy and balanced diet is essential for the growth and development of the foetus and the health and well-being of the mother.

Unlike the recommendation to increase folic acid during pregnancy, which is well-known for its pregnancy benefits of preventing certain birth defects for the developing baby or the recommendation to consume adequate protein, which is well-known for supporting milk supply and helping with internal recovery for the mother, the benefits and necessity of consuming omega-3 fatty acids are not as well known.

Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are broken down into two categories: DHA and EPA. Both DHA and EPA offer their own benefits and are especially essential for fetal growth and development during pregnancy and perinatal wellbeing.

Omega-3s are not naturally synthesized or made by our bodies. Therefore they need to be consumed from the foods and supplements we consume. The dietary intake recommendation for omega-3 fatty acid for a healthy adult woman is to consume a minimum of 250–500mg a day, which includes a combination of both EPA and DHA. A women’s dietary goal for omega-3 fatty acids increases when she becomes pregnant or even when she starts trying for a baby. During pregnancy the dietary goal for omega-3 fatty acids is around 650 mg. We can get omega-3 fatty acids from a few different sources with seafood and fish, and vegetable oils being the most common sources. (Oils that are high in omega-3 fatty acids that I recommend include canola, and flaxseed oil). This increased recommended amount of omega 3’s is not usually consumable safely via diet alone, therefore a supplement is usually recommended for pregnant women.1 It is further recommend for a woman post-partum, who is breastfeeding to consume an extra 200 mg on top of the recommended 250-500mg a day.2

Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

There are a number of benefits that consuming omega-3 fatty acids has for fetal development during pregnancy and they include:

• Improves neurological development for our babies

• Promotes development of our baby’s cardiac systems

• Promotes development of our baby’s respiratory systems

• Support’s our baby’s brain development

• Support’s our baby’s eye and retina development &

• Increases the cognitive function of our children, up until the age of 4.3

Consuming omega-3’s post pregnancy can offer benefits to a mother’s mental wellbeing. The benefit in particular that I would like to discuss focuses on a topic that many woman are too embarrassed to discuss; post-natal depression (PND). PND affects about 1 in every 7 women within a year of them giving birth.4

Just like with every other nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids get transferred from mother to fetus. Therefore a mother’s store can become depleted, hence the dietary recommendations for ingestion are higher for pregnant and breastfeeding women. This is one of the reasons that consuming an increased amount of omega-3 fatty acids is recommended. The other reason for increasing omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy is because omega 3-fatty acids can improve depressive symtpoms.6

There is the idea that an increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of depressive symptoms postpartum, as “fatty acids have been shown to decrease proinflammatory cytokine production, which is elevated in depressed mother’s, post-partum”.5 However, further studies are being done to clarify this idea.

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Conclusion

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for everyone. Particularly pregnant women. During pregnancy and post-partum, omega-3 dietary requirements are higher, especially to support fetal growth and development and to help restore the mother’s store. Omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive effect on the mother’s mental health post birth. However there is more research being done to confirm this. Postpartum depression has many negative consequences; including affecting a baby’s cognitive growth and development and parent and baby relationships, therefore it is highly recommended that you speak to your doctor if you believe you may have PND.

Disclaimer: Results may vary. Please speak to your health care provider about your diet and omega-3 consumption before you take any supplements or change your diet as there is a risk of mercury toxicity if we consume too much seafood or fish.

 

1. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Fall; 1(4): 162–169.

2. From the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition, 10-14 November, 2008, WHO, Geneva

3. Oken E, Bellinger DC. Fish consumption, methylmercury and child neurodevelopment. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008;20:178–183.

4. PANDA(Anxiety and Depression in Pregnancy & Early Parenthood)beyondblue(A guide to emotional health and wellbeing during pregnancy and early parenthood)NHS Choices (UK)(Postnatal depression)Raising Children Network(Antenatal depression and postnatal depression in women)

5. Owen C, Rees AM, Parker G. The role of fatty acids in the development and treatment of mood disorders. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2008;21:19–24.[PubMed] [Google Scholar]

6. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Fall; 3(4): 163–171.

Tammy Mond is a registered dietician living in Melbourne, she is also a breastfeeding mum with a beautiful baby daughter. 

 

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