Study reveals that pregnant French women have “very low” omega-3 levels that may negatively affect infant health

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients that a woman needs during pregnancy. These healthy fats are known to improve the growth and development of the baby in her womb. However, a recent study found that the daily omega-3 consumption of pregnant women living in France is significantly lower than the recommended daily intake (RDI) of 250 mg per day for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 0.51 percent for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – which posed a risk for their infants’ health.

Researchers from France looked at the dietary lipid and polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intakes of 28 pregnant and 21 breastfeeding French women. The participants completed a seven-day food questionnaire that had 1,305 food items to determine their fat and fatty acid consumption. The French researchers collected the participants’ data from the National Survey INCA2 conducted in 2006 and 2007. Then, they compared the results with that of 742 women of childbearing age.

The researchers found that the participants’ average daily consumption of omega-3s was very low in these populations because no pregnant and breastfeeding women met the RDIs. They found that some of the participants consumed four to 10 times lower than RDIs, and women of childbearing age had similar dietary intakes.

“Such PUFA imbalance in the maternal diet against omega-3 PUFA during perinatal life, i.e. from the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy up to 2 years of age in human, could alter DHA accretion and function of the developing brain and retina in infant,” explained the researchers.

The study suggested that low omega-3 intake could negatively affect fetal brain membranes, which could dampen infants’ cognitive and visual development during the first years of life. From their findings, the researchers urged pregnant and breastfeeding women to increase their omega-3 consumption. They published their findings in the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids.

Omega-3 fatty acid intake during pregnancy reduces the odds of preterm birth

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids — either as supplements or as dietary additions in food — has been proven beneficial for pregnant women and their baby. A Cochrane review suggested that increasing omega-3 consumption can improve the health outcomes for babies and their mothers by reducing the incidence of preterm birth and low birth weight.

Also known as premature birth, preterm birth is the birth of a baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It is the leading cause of disability or death in the first five years of life. Earlier studies suggested a link between consuming omega-3-rich fish and fish oil and longer pregnancies.

The Cochrane review analyzed data from 70 randomized controlled trials involving 19,927 women. The findings of the review revealed that increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption during pregnancy may reduce the incidence of premature birth and may increase the chance of having a baby with normal birth weight. Pregnant women who increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids may also have a higher chance of having longer pregnancies. In addition, the risk of the baby dying or being very sick and going to neonatal intensive care may be lower with the consumption of omega-3s. (Related: Supplementing with omega-3s while pregnant reduces your child’s risk of inflammatory-related diseases.)

The review concluded that consuming more omega-3s during pregnancy may improve the overall outcomes for both babies and mothers.

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