Fish oil supplementation during pregnancy is important for optimizing the health of both the mother and baby. If you are wondering how fish oil might benefit your pregnancy, look no further.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about taking fish oil while you are pregnant.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is oil that is extracted from the fat of a fish to be used as a supplement in pill, capsule, or liquid form. It is made up of two different omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) [*]. These omega-3 fatty acids can only be found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is important for overall health and well-being.
EPA and DHA do different things for the body and provide the body with several health-promoting benefits. EPA targets the cardiovascular system, helping to ensure adequate heart health, while DHA targets neurons, supporting overall brain and nervous system health.
Getting adequate DHA is essential during pregnancy, and EPA is a great addition. Fish oil is generally considered safe for consumption during pregnancy and otherwise (when not pregnant) and could be an advantageous addition to your routine, especially if you don’t eat fatty fish.
Can You Take Fish Oil While Pregnant?
Yes, and there are many different fish oil supplements on the market, so it is important to choose a high-quality option. In addition, you can take fish oil alongside a prenatal vitamin, as the nutrients are not duplicated and do not compete or inhibit the absorption of each other.
Consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids while pregnant is important for many reasons [*]. Often, during pregnancy, it can be difficult for individuals to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids in food due to food aversions and/or morning sickness. Many women, especially during the first trimester, do not feel like eating fish. For this reason, fish oil supplementation during pregnancy can be helpful.
However, if possible, fish oil supplementation shouldn’t replace consuming fish if a pregnant person can include fish in their diet. In addition to being a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is also a great source of other nutrients for pregnant people, such as protein, iodine, and vitamin D. Supplementing with fish oil alone does not give a pregnant person these bonus nutrients.
When Should You Take Fish Oil?
Ideally, a pregnant person may consume low-mercury fish a few times per week. But if a woman doesn’t like fish or has food aversions throughout their pregnancy, a fish oil supplement bridges the gaps and covers the mother’s and baby’s needs for DHA.
You can begin taking a fish oil supplement before you are pregnant while trying to conceive, as it is health-promoting for the mother [*]. If you do not begin before conception, it is okay to take the fish oil once you are confirmed pregnant. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional to find the best fish oil option for you.
Benefits of Taking Fish Oil While Pregnant
Taking fish oil while pregnant has several benefits for both mother and baby. Some of the most important benefits are detailed below.
DHA is considered an essential nutrient during development, meaning the mother needs to have DHA in her diet or supplement daily to support the development of her baby adequately. Because there is a high concentration of DHA in the brain, getting adequate DHA from the mother is required for the developing brain and spinal cord [*].
Adequate omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with better neurodevelopmental outcomes in children than children whose mothers did not intake adequate omega-3 fatty acids while pregnant [*]. The benefits of fish oil continue into the postpartum breastfeeding period as well, as children who consumed breastmilk with sufficient DHA levels scored higher on developmental exams than those who did not.
In addition to its benefits on the developing nervous system, fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties, and mitigating inflammation in the body has health-promoting effects for mother and baby. Researchers have found that if the body has higher circulating levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory, and lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory, certain pro-inflammatory markers can be higher in the blood and are associated with an increased risk of having a preterm baby [*]. This suggests adequate fish oil intake and/or supplementation may help reduce preterm deliveries.
Other Benefits Not Yet Demonstrated by Research
One common question regarding fish oil and pregnancy is if supplementing with fish oil helps to prevent miscarriages. While some early studies on this in animals suggest that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids could help prevent miscarriage, future studies are needed to draw a clearer conclusion on this relationship [*].
The same is true regarding the relationship between fish oil supplements and preventing preeclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure and, in some cases, organ failure during pregnancy. While most studies point towards no correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and lower rates of preeclampsia, more research is needed to advance our understanding [*].
How to Find a Quality Fish Oil Supplement
Just because fish oil is recognized as a safe supplement for pregnant women doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do some research to ensure you are consuming a safe option from a reputable brand. Not all supplements are created equal, and ensuring that the one you choose is a high-quality, safe option is important. Here are some things to consider:
- Good Manufacturing Practices. First, choose a brand that ensures good manufacturing processes, which is often disclosed on the bottle or a company’s website. For example, containers should be sealed properly to keep moisture out and prevent capsules from getting sticky. If you pick up a fish oil supplement in a local store, shake the bottle before buying it. You should hear the capsules move around when you shake the bottle. Capsules should not be stuck together or solidified.
- Odor. Next, smell the fish oil. The fish oil shouldn’t smell or taste especially fishy. While this sounds counterintuitive, the pungent, fishy smell often only happens when supplements have gone bad.
- Third-Party Test Results. Search the manufacturer’s website for the results of third-party testing. If it isn’t listed, you might be able to find it on websites that aggregate food and supplement test results. If you can’t find the results of a third-party test, you might consider another product [*].
How Much Fish Oil Should You Take While Pregnant?
Getting at least 300 milligrams (mg) daily of DHA while pregnant is recommended and considered essential. However, taking a higher dose of fish oil that provides around 1000 mg of EPA and 1000 mg of DHA per day is safe for mom and baby [*]. If you do not want to take fish oil, it is essential to eat fish or supplement with DHA or with a prenatal that includes DHA to ensure that your baby is getting an adequate amount to support their nervous system development.
Take your fish oil supplement with a food that contains fat to allow for adequate absorption. For example, take your fish oil after eating some toast with peanut butter (a fat source) rather than taking it in between meals and/or on an empty stomach.
The main side effect of a fish oil supplement that is worth noting is that it thins the blood [*]. So, whether you are pregnant or not, always consult with a healthcare provider when it comes to adding a new supplement to your routine. If you are on blood thinners, a fish oil supplement needs to be discussed with a practitioner. It is important to receive individualized guidance to know what is best for you and your health.
Other Good Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As far as food sources of omega-3 fatty acids go, the foods that are most helpful are fatty fish, as detailed above. If you are trying to incorporate more fish into your diet, use these meal and snack ideas:
- Breakfast: bagel and lox
- Lunch: tuna salad sandwich
- Snack: baked crab hand roll
- Dinner: salmon stir fry with rice and veggies
Eating around 8-12 ounces or a few servings of fish per week while pregnant is generally recommended [*]. However, not all fish is created equal, and pregnant people should consider how much mercury they eat. The good news is that getting the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids is possible by eating fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
Fish Oil for Pregnancy FAQs
Is it safe to take fish oil while pregnant?
Yes, it is generally considered safe. However, always consult with your doctor for personalized guidance.
When should I start taking fish oil during pregnancy?
You can begin taking fish oil before pregnancy or as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
When should I stop taking fish oil during pregnancy?
You do not need to stop taking fish oil; you can continue throughout the entirety of your pregnancy.
Which fish oils should I avoid during pregnancy?
Choosing a high-quality, safely manufactured fish oil certified as safe for consumption is important. All others should be avoided. Consult with your healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.
In which trimester are omega-3 fatty acids important?
Omega-3 fatty acids are important in all three trimesters.
What if you choose not to take fish oil during pregnancy?
If you choose not to take fish oil, it is essential to supplement with a prenatal vitamin with DHA or another DHA supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin.
Does fish oil help prevent miscarriage?
Further research is needed on this topic to understand the relationship between fish oil and miscarriage.
Can fish oil prevent preeclampsia?
Preliminary studies suggest that fish oil does not prevent preeclampsia, but more research is needed.
What foods are high in DHA and safe during pregnancy?
Salmon, sardines, herring, trout, and eggs
Can I take 1000 mg of fish oil while pregnant?
Yes, this dose is generally considered safe.
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The Bottom Line
Including fish oil as a supplement during pregnancy offers numerous advantages for both the mother and the baby. If you or someone you know is interested in incorporating top-notch fish oil into their daily regimen, it is advisable to seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional who can provide personalized and thorough guidance.
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