Omega-3 Intake During Pregnancy Closely Related To Infant Development

Originally Written: May 2008
Updated April 2018:

Omega-3 fatty acid consumption during the last trimester of pregnancy appears to help with the motor and cognitive development of the infant. Higher omega-3 concentrations in the blood of the infants (which was also representative of a higher content in the mothers blood) was revealed to be strongly correlated to advanced development, according to a recent study.

The umbilical cord blood of 109 infants was measured for content of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. “DHA concentration in the umbilical cord is a good indicator of intrauterine exposure to omega-3s during the last trimester of pregnancy, a crucial period for the development of retinal photoreceptors and neurons,” says study author Dr. Uric Dewally.

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the so-called “essential fatty acids,” and are known to be significant in the growth of young children. Omega-3 has also been popularized recently by its potential benefits in helping prevent against heart disease by increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure. Fish oil contains high concentrations of omega-3, and is present in oily cold water fish, such as salmon and anchovies, as well as in supplements at higher concentrations. There are other food sources as well, such as kiwifruit and flaxseed, at lower concentrations of omega-3 than fish oil.

At 6 months (while still inside the womb) and at 11 months (after birth), the infant’s sensory and cognitive developments were observed. “Tests conducted on these infants at 6 and 11 months revealed that their visual acuity as well as their cognitive and motor development were closely linked to DHA concentration in the umbilical cord blood at the time of their birth.”

There was a strong correlation between the mother’s omega-3 blood concentration, and that of the infant, which was to be expected. The concentration in the infant was in fact higher than that of the mother, but was directly related to a higher concentration in the mother compared to other women. This is a “reminder of the importance of a mother’s diet in providing omega-3 fatty acids for the fetus,” according to the study.

The scientists definitively claim that sufficient omega-3 intake for pregnant women is of great importance. The study states that “a diet rich in omega-3s during pregnancy can’t be expected to solve everything, but our results show that such a diet has positive effects on a child’s sensory, cognitive, and motor development. Benefits from eating fish with low contaminant levels and high omega-3 contents, such as trout, salmon, and sardines, far outweigh potential risks even during pregnancy.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Hupp, Jean-Franois. Dewally, Uric. Journal of Pediatrics news release. April 2008.

Update: A 2016 study further supported the conclusion that the consumption of omega 3 and other polyunsaturated fats is important for pregnant mothers and young children to ensure healthy cognitive development.


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