Omega-3 & Pregnancy. DHA & Pregnancy

The human brain starts to develop in the third week of pregnancy and continues to do so for a long post-natal period. Bear in mind that the brain increases size four-fold during the school period and reaches 90% of its adult volume at the age of six (1). These are relevant data that show looking after yourself in this period is crucial for the child’s good cognitive condition. They also show that environmental factors have a major effect on the child, an example being the formation of the brain. Additionally, together with genetic factors, they are involved in the development of the neurological system and during the foetal and postnatal period, environmental factors, such as nutrition, have an increasingly important influence on development (1). The developing brain is particularly vulnerable between weeks 24 and 32 of pregnancy.

Disregarding diet is always a risk, but especially so during gestation. Nutritional deficiencies in this period can alter the brain, not just while the deficiency continues but also once it has been corrected (2). There are elements the future baby needs to develop properly, such as DHA. This is an important component of the neuronal membranes and the retina and accumulates rapidly in the brain during gestation and the postnatal period (3).

Why choose omega-3 during pregnancy?

The benefits of omega-3 during pregnancy and postpartum can be divided into three phases:

  • Pre-pregnancy:The effect of pregnancy on maternal omega-3 levels depends on their levels in the future mother before becoming pregnant and her intake during pregnancy (4).
  • PregnancyOmega-3 consumption has numerous positive effects for the mother and foetus. DHA and EPA consumption during pregnancy produces a small increase in the length of gestation and the child’s weight. By improving gestation time frequency of low birth weight and the risk of pre-eclampsia are reduced (4). One of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia that may appear when a woman is pregnant is arterial hypertension and an increase in urine proteins after week 20 (end of the second or third trimester) of gestation (5). DHA also reduces the frequency of depression both during and after birth (4). Finally, DHA and EPA improve the child’s immunological response, visual function and neurological and cognitive development (4).
  • Breastfeeding:The mother’s supplementation with DHA during breastfeeding is much more effective if DHA in the milk is increased, rather than if supplementation is limited only to pregnancy (4).

One of the most common questions asked by pregnant women is:

Will I suffer from the dreaded postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression is a disease that occurs in up to 20% of women who give birth.

It can lead to recurring episodes that affect the development of the child and in some severe cases suicide of the mother or infanticide (6). What many future mothers don’t know is that they can also suffer depression during pregnancy, a common occurrence in Western countries, but virtually absent in countries with high fish consumption. There is an association between low consumption of omega-3 from fish and a greater risk of having symptoms of depression during gestation. Therefore, eating fish during pregnancy can have beneficial effects on the mother’s mental health (7). It is prudent for pregnant or breastfeeding women to select sources of omega-3 that have a low content of mercury or other contaminants (6).

Bibliography:

1. Stiles J, Jernigan TJ. The basics of brain development. Neurpsychol Rev. 2010 December, 20(4):327-48. 2. Georgieff MK. Nutrition and the developing brain: nutrient priorities and measurement. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Feb;85(2):614S-620S. 3. Cetin I, Koletzko B. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supply in pregnancy and lactation. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 May; 11(3):297-302. 4. Jensen CL. Effects of n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun; 83(6 Suppl):1452S-1457S. 5. NIH. Preeclampsia. 2012. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/ency/article/000898.htm (access date: 14/01/2014) 6. Levant B. N-3 (omega-3) Fatty acids in postpartum depression: implications for prevention and treatment. Depress Res Treat. 2011:467349. doi: 10.1155/2011/467349. Epub 2010 Oct 27. 7. Golding J, et al. High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish. Epidemiology. 2009 Jul; 20(4): 598-603.

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  3. All scientific opinions that appear in this document are properly numbered and referenced at the end.
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