Omega-3 fatty acids and their role in pregnancy

The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Pregnancy

Doctors recommend the daily intake of essential omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are crucial for the cognitive and visual development of the fetus.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that help in the development and maintenance of the vital body parts. These are not synthesized by the human body and must be consumed from an outside source.

Importance of Omega-3

Of the Omega-3s, the most important ones are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Both usually occur as well as work together in the body, but each has its unique advantages. While DHA aids the proper development of the brain, eyes and central nervous system, EPA supports immune system, heart and inflammatory response.
Omega-3s are also beneficial in maintaining the balanced production of prostaglandins that regulate different physiological functions such as blood pressure, nerve transmission, blood clotting, allergic responses, production of hormones and proper functioning of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.

Benefits of Omega-3 during Pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the neurological development of fetuses. During early pregnancy, the fetus needs DHA and EPA for brain and visual development. Even in the early years after birth, the brain of an infant accumulates large amount of DHA, and compared to rest of the body, has extremely high levels of DHA.
Pregnant women often get depleted of omega-3 because it is used by the body to build the fetus’ nervous system. Therefore, doctors recommend a daily supplement for expecting mothers. Even after delivery, women must consume omega-3s as they are beneficial in producing breast milk as well.

With each pregnancy, the levels of omega-3s gets reduced in the mother’s body. To maintain the balanced cognitive development of the baby, women should add EPA and DHA to their regular diet during each pregnancy.
Other than neurological development, omega-3s are also known to reduce the likelihood of pre-term labour and delivery, lower the risk of pre-eclampsia and decrease the risk of postpartum mood swings that get worse with every subsequent pregnancy.

Benefits of Omega-3 during Pregnancy

Best Sources of Omega-3 during Pregnancy

Cold water fish are the best source of EPA and DHA. Doctors recommend salmon, rainbow trout, anchovies, herring and sardines, as levels of mercury are low in these. However, one should not consume more than 5 ounces of salmon, 16 sardines or 14 ounces of rainbow trout each week during pregnancy.

Unlike the popular belief, flaxseed is not the right omega-3 that is required during pregnancy. Flaxseed is a source of omega-3 fatty acid called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is not as important as EPA and DHA. As compared to EPA and DHA, ALA has a shorter-chain omega-3. Earlier it was believed that the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, but further studies proved otherwise.

Some manufacturers derive omega-3 supplements from algae, making them a perfect solution for vegetarians. These days milk, soy, eggs, cereals, breads, juices and yogurt are fortified with omega-3s. Some of them do not contain large amounts of DHA or EPA, but even small amounts from different sources can add up. You should check the labels for at least 50 milligrams of DHA per serving in each product.

Quality of Fish Oil Matters

Fish oil taken during pregnancy should be of good quality. Most women prefer eating fresh fish, but that can increase the amount of mercury in their bodies. Manufacturers of fish oil supplements process the fish oil to refine it and remove traces of mercury from it. So, it is better to meet the omega-3 requirement by consuming supplements.

In a nutshell, it is very important for the mom to follow the nutritional guidelines for pregnancy diligently. A little slip or negligence could result in setbacks for the fetus in terms of developmental parameters, which is the last thing a mom would want.

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