How vital are Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Preconception, Pregnancy & Breastfeeding?

Whether you and your partner are just embarking on your conception journey or you are pregnant or breastfeeding, these times are your greatest opportunity to influence your future child’s health.

One of the most critical nutrients during this period for the health of you and your baby are the Omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The dangers of pollutants in fish

The richest sources of dietary EPA and DHA are oily fish, however many of these fish pose a potential health risk during reproduction, as some fish contain high levels of environmental contaminants. These include heavy metals and pesticides such as dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane and polychlorinated biphenyls (DDT and PCBs).

To avoid potentially dangerous mercury levels pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and young children are generally advised to limit fish intake.

Purified Fish Oils are the key

Fortunately, the purification of Omega-3 fish oils has greatly advanced in recent years and it is now possible to guarantee the purity of the oils.

Heavy metals and pesticides can be significantly reduced, often below detectible limits, in highly purified fish oil supplements, providing a safe way to optimise your Omega-3 intake.

Preconception Benefits of Omega-3’s

The preconception period offers the opportunity to optimise the nutritional status and health of both parents, increasing the chances of conception. Supplementation of EPA and DHA during this time can help to reduce inflammation, if present and this supports the chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Dietary fats, including Omega-3’s support proper hormone production, this includes sex hormones. If various hormonal imbalances are present during preconception, this may reduce the chances of falling pregnant.

Naturopathic support for women and men too

Your naturopath will work with you to remedy these imbalances. Increased intake of Omega-3 fatty acids during the preconception period supports healthy follicular response and embryo morphology in women undergoing intracytoplasmic sperm injections as part of their fertility treatments.1

Omega-3’s support healthy blood flow, this is particularly important during pregnancy to support the health of the womb. Women who have suffered repeat miscarriages due to impaired uterine perfusion have been shown to benefit from supplementation of 4000 mg Omega-3 daily (795 mg DHA, 1190 mg EPA), which improved uterine blood flow.2

Omega-3 fatty acids also benefit male reproductive function and therefore support healthy conception. Increased DHA content in sperm membranes is associated with improved sperm motility, morphology and concentrations.3,4

Omega-3’s in Pregnancy

The rapidly developing foetus has a high need for fatty acids. They are necessary for healthy brain and eye development and for placental growth. Fatty acids are also necessary for the mother to support mammary gland and uterine growth.

These Omega-3 fats, particularly DHA, are critical for central nervous system development which begins 21 to 28 days after conception. At 40 days after conception brain waves are recordable. Therefore, it is essential that women ingest adequate amounts of essential fatty acids prior to conception.

Omega-3’s are good for Mum as well as Baby

Increased intake of Omega-3’s has benefits for both the health of your baby and yourself. Higher intake of EPA and DHA is associated with reduced risk of preterm delivery and increased birth weights.5 Omega-3’s also support your baby’s brain and eye development, this has been demonstrated in clinical trials with improved eye-motor skills in infants.6 Other research has also found Omega-3 supplementation in pregnancy can reduce the risk of allergic skin conditions in infants.7 Higher intake of Omega-3 during pregnancy reduces the risk of postnatal depression and depression scores both during pregnancy and postpartum.8

Safe Fish Consumption in Pregnancy

There are health benefits from the regular consumption of fish, however environmental pollutants such as mercury, other heavy metals and PCBs are known to accumulate in the tissues of fish. The rule of thumb is the bigger the species of fish, the more likely it has bio accumulated these toxic compounds. Fish that contain high levels of mercury include swordfish, marlin, gemfish, southern blue fin tuna, orange roughy/sea perch and shark. Due to the adverse health effects of mercury, particularly during periods of growth, women, nursing mothers, women planning pregnancy and children up to the age of six should avoid eating these fish.

Omega-3’s are Essential during Breastfeeding

Human breast milk contains a ratio of EPA: DHA of 1:2.5 in Australia and this reflects the importance particularly of DHA for infant development.9 Supplementing with Omega-3’s will support your baby’s brain and eye development, with studies reporting improved infant motor skills, attention and behaviour.6 Other studies indicate benefits for the baby’s immune system development with supplementation of Omega-3’s reducing the incidence and severity of IgE (allergic) diseases in the infants first year of life.10

The demands of pregnancy and lactation increase risk of DHA loss from tissues including the brain, especially in women with inadequate dietary intakes.11 Low tissue levels of Omega-3’s are present in postpartum depression.11 Therefore to look after the health of you and your baby it is a good idea to supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids.

Why Choosing Pure and Sustainable Omega-3 Fish Oil is Best for You and Your Baby

In addition to the regular inclusion of Omega-3 rich foods in your diet, your practitioner may prescribe Omega-3 supplements to increase your intake of these important nutrients. Using concentrated fish oil avoids the potential health issues associated with consumption of fish containing environmental toxins.

Depending on your preference and health needs, you can take Omega-3’sin either liquid or capsule form. Make sure to ask your practitioner that the Omega-3 supplement you are taking is highly concentrated, with high quality and purity assurances, as well as being sourced from sustainable and environmentally sound sources. This way, you will best look after the health of you, your family, and the environment.

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Thompsons Omega-3 Fish Oil and
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References

[1] Hammiche F, Vujkovic M, Wijburg W et al. Increased preconception omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake improves embryo morphology. Fertil Steril. 2011; 95(5): 1820-1823.

2 Lazzarin N, Vaquero E, Exacoustos C et al. Low-dose aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids improve uterine artery blood flow velocity in women with recurrent miscarriage due to impaired uterine perfusion. Fertil Steril. 2009; 92(1): 296-300.

3 Gulaya NM, Margitich VM, Govseeva NM et al. Phospholipid composition of human sperm and seminal plasma in relation to sperm fertility. Arch Androl. 2001; 46(3): 169-75.

4 Safarinejad MR, Hosseini SY, Dadkhah F et al. Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: a comparison between fertile and infertile men.

Clin Nutr. 2010; 29(1): 100-5.

5 Larquéa E, Gil-Sáncheza A, Prieto-Sáncheza MT et al. Omega 3 fatty acids, gestation and pregnancy outcomes.

British Journal of Nutrition. 2012; 107(S2): S77-S84.

6 Morse NL. Benefits of docosahexaenoic acid, folic acid, vitamin D and iodine on foetal and infant brain development and function following maternal supplementation during pregnancy and lactation. Nutrients. 2012; 4(7): 799-840.

7Palmer DJ, Sullivan T, Gold MS et al. Effect of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy on infants’ allergies in first year of life: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2012; 344: e184.

8 Leung BMY, Kaplan BJ, Field CJ et al. Prenatal micronutrient supplementation and postpartum depressive symptoms in a pregnancy cohort. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2013; 13: 2.

9 Hibbeln JR. Seafood consumption, the DHA content of mothers’ milk and prevalence rates of postpartum depression: a cross-national, ecological analysis. J Affect Disord. 2002; 69(1-3): 15-29.

10 Furuhjelm C, Warstedt K, Fagerås M et al. Allergic disease in infants up to 2 years of age in relation to plasma omega-3 fatty acids and maternal fish oil supplementation in pregnancy and lactation. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2011; 22(5): 505-14.

11 Levant B. N-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids in Postpartum Depression: Implications for Prevention and Treatment.
Depress Res Treat. 2011; 2011: 467349.

12 FSANZ. Mercury in Fish. 2012, Barton. Available from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/mercuryinfish.cfm

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