Why pregnant women need to add omega-3 in their diet | Mint – Mint

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Omega-3 are essential fatty acids that serve as the building blocks for the developing fetal brain and retina during pregnancy. The most active form of omega-3 fatty acid is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both of which are primarily derived from seafood and algae. Studies suggest that most women, across the globe do not consume adequate quantities of fish to meet their DHA requirement, owing to their concerns linked with mercury toxicity and contamination of seafood. 

A study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition in February this year titled, Demographic and health characteristics associated with fish and n-3 fatty acid supplement intake during pregnancy: results from pregnancy cohorts in the ECHO programme, explored the diet of 10,800 pregnant women to see how much omega-3 fatty acids they consumed, every week, either by including seafood in their diet or taking supplements. The results showed that overall, 24.6 percent participants reported consuming fish never or less than once per month, 40.1 percent consumed less than once a week. Only 13.2 percent reported consuming fish more than twice per week. The intake of omega-3 supplement use was uncommon, even among those who did not consume fish. The decrease in intake of fish was mainly attributed to federal advisories about mercury in fish since 2001. 

How do omega-3 fatty acids impact the foetus? 
A baby’s brain is made of 60% fat with DHA contributing to the maximum composition, making it crucial to focus on this essential nutrient during pregnancy. The fetal brain growth is known to accelerate during the second half of pregnancy, with the majority of the foundational cognitive development happening in the third trimester. Research also states that omega-3 acids are found to influence the duration of the gestational period & prenatal depression.

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What’s the best way for a pregnant woman to incorporate omega 3 into her diet?
Omega-3 requirements during pregnancy can simply be met by focusing on three servings of high-quality fatty fish a week, or supplementation is recommended second trimester onwards. It is important to note that those on a plant-based diet must focus on both DHA and ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) sources of supplement rather than opting for an only ALA supplement. Note: ALA is a plant-based source and the third acid that along with DHA & EHA make omega-3. ALA is often the preferred source of omega 3 supplementation for those on a plant-based diet.

Maternal DHA levels during pregnancy are known to positively impact the baby’s memory, language comprehension, reduce the chances of neurological disorders, protect the baby’s brain from oxidation damage and increase the child’s IQ levels. Additionally, it serves as benefiting the mother by helping build her reserves of omega-3 for breastfeeding, reduce the risk of developing gestational hypertension and prevent the development of postpartum depression.

Dr. Vanshika Gupta Adukia is a pregnancy/childbirth and lactation specialist, a pelvic floor physiotherapist and founder of Therhappy, Mumbai.

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Published: 15 May 2024, 06:00 PM IST

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