Is it safe to take omega 3 fish oil supplements during pregnancy?
Yes and no. There are two types of fish oil supplement – those made from the liver of the fish and those made from the body of the fish.
Supplements made from the liver of the fish, such as cod liver oil, contain the retinol form of vitamin A and need to be avoided altogether during pregnancy. However, fish oilsnotderived from fish livers contain lots of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 essential fatty acid which is essential for your baby’s developing eyes and brain. At present, there is no recommended daily intake of DHA, although this is currently being researched.
If you eat a varied range of foods, including some oily fish, you may not need to supplement your diet, as you’ll be getting plenty of DHA, along with other nutrients which you wouldn’t get from taking supplements alone. DHA can also be found in lesser amounts in other foods, such as walnuts, flaxseed, rapeseed and linseed. However, there.is some doubt as to whether DHA from these vegetable sources has the same benefits as those from fish.
Including DHA in your diet is essential for your baby’s normal brain, eye and vision development, especially during the last trimester. This may be one reason why premature babies are particularly at risk of eye and brain damage.
Fish especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids include tinned or fresh mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, kippers, pilchards, anchovies, fresh tuna and sardines.
The Food Standards Agency recommends that pregnant women eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week. The restriction results from findings that oily fish contain environmental pollutants, such as dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). There is some evidence that these pollutants can interfere with how a baby develops during pregnancy.
Current advice is aimed at making sure that pregnant women eat enough oily fish to get the benefits of DHA for their developing baby, at a level that doesn’t cause harm as a result of the pollutants the fish contains. You should also avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin during pregnancy, as these fish can contain high levels of mercury.
Reviewed May 2008
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