Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized in the body and have to be obtained from dietary sources or supplements. They are a group of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids which are essential nutrients for health and development. Studies show that most standard diets are severely deficient of omega-3s. This deficiency is farther enhanced in pregnant women because the fetus uses omega-3s for its nervous system deployment. The two most beneficial omega-3s during pregnancy are eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid with each having unique benefits. Omega-3s play a critical role in fetal neurodevelopment and are important for the timing of gestation and birth weight.
Docosahexaenoic acid has been found to be highly concentrated in retinal and brain membrane phospholipids. These fatty acids are involved in visual and neural function and neurotransmitter metabolism. Studies have shown that in the last 3 months of pregnancy, the fetus accrues up to 70 mg of docosahexaenoic acid per day. The fetal blood concentration of docosahexaenoic acid can be determined by calculation the maternal intake and blood concentration. Infants also accumulate docosahexaenoic acid into the central nervous system up to the age of 18 months.
A regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids is important for maintaining a balanced production of prostaglandins, a compound that acts as a hormone. Prostaglandins are helpful in regulating physiological functions such as blood pressure, clotting, the digestive system, and the production of other hormones. Prostaglandins have also been shown to have several health benefits such as preventing heart disease, improving cognitive function, and regulating inflammations. Docosahexaenoic acid is important for pregnant and lactating women as it supports the development of the eyes, brain, and central nervous system.
The dietary requirement for omega-3s doesn’t stop after birth as they are used to make breast milk. Studies have shown that the levels of omega-3 fatty acids are depleted in mothers with each subsequent pregnancy. Docosahexaenoic acid is rapidly consumed by the baby’s retina and brain during pregnancy. It is an essential building block for the neurological development and vision in babies making its intake essential during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
High consumption of omega-3, particularly docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy can have a great positive impact on a baby’s risk of childhood obesity. Studies have shown that pregnant women who take high amounts of omega-3s during pregnancy have children with less body fat as compared to those who don’t.
Birth weight is an extremely important indicator of a baby’s survival. The lower the weight, the higher the baby’s risk of infant mortality. Studies of infants have shown that pregnant women who receive enough docosahexaenoic acid supplementation have babies with higher birth weights.
A regular intake of dietary omega-3, as well as supplements, has a positive effect on the pregnancy itself as they prevent preterm labor. They have also been shown to prevent preeclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and after labor. An omega-3 deficiency in pregnant women can increase the mother’s risk of depression. This is why women experience postpartum mood disorders which may worsen and begin earlier with each subsequent pregnancy.