Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are recommended for every expecting mother, since omega-3s are not synthesized by the human body. Fish oil pills have become the popular method, especially in America where the common diet tends to neglect omega-3 sources, like fish and seafood. A recent study funded by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions has revealed that too many pregnant women are putting their child’s development at risk by neglecting omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 LCPUFA).

"Only 27 percent of women during pregnancy and 25 percent at three months postpartum met the current European Union (EU) consensus recommendation for DHA," the research team said in a statement. "Seafood, fish, and seaweed products contributed to 79 percent of overall n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids intake from foods, with the majority from salmon. Results suggest that the majority of women in the cohort were not meeting the EU recommendation for DHA during pregnancy and lactation."

Researchers from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary recruited 600 women from the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APrON), a cohort study aimed toward understanding the relationship between a mother’s diet during pregnancy and both her and her infant’s health and development. While the majority of these women were educated and had high incomes, they also failed to meet omega-3 LCPUFA recommendations during pregnancy and lactation.

Women who took any supplement containing DHA were 10.6 to 11.1 times more likely to meet the EU’s current consensus recommendation for pregnancy and postpartum. Forty-four percent of the women who reported taking a supplement during pregnancy were not taking that same supplement while breastfeeding three months after giving birth. A similar study revealed that children from mothers who did not adhere to omega-3 LCPUFA supplementation were at a higher risk for sleep disturbances.

Back in June 2014, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement advising women to eat more fish to aid in fetal growth and development. The FDA’s acting chief scientist Stephen Ostroff said: "Emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development, as well as on general health."

All of the experts agree that omega-3 LCPUFA is important for any healthy adult, especially pregnant and lactating women. The American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, The European Commission (EU), and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids all recommend consuming at least 500 mg of omega-3 LCPUFA or 200 mg of DHA per day. The research team suggests following Health Canada’s recommendation to consume one to two portions of fish high in fatty acids each week.

Source: Jia X, Pakseresht M, Wattar N, et al. Pregnant women not getting enough omega-3, critical for infant development, research shows. Canadian Science Publishing (NRC Research Press). 2015.