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Fish oil supplementation during pregnancy lowers the risk of premature delivery

- and being overweight poses a particular risk

Fish oil supplementation during pregnancy lowers the risk of premature deliveryPremature delivery increases the baby’s risk of being born with developmental disturbances or dying within its first months of life. It is commonly known that omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal pregnancy. According to a new and updated Cochrane review article, overweight people are at increased risk of lacking omega-3 fatty acids, and supplementing with omega-3 may lower their risk of giving birth too soon. Although the new study supports earlier research, there was something that surprised the scientists.

If a pregnant woman gives birth before week 37, the delivery is considered premature. The earlier the baby is born, the greater the risk of complications and late effects. It is therefore of utmost importance to ensure a healthy pregnancy, both for the mother and her child.
According to a new and updated Cochrane review, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can lower the risk of premature delivery and is therefore important for preventing this problem. The scientists behind the study also hypothesized that pregnant women that are overweight and therefore at increased risk of giving birth too early also have lower blood levels of omega-3 and would therefore be likely to benefit from taking fish oil.

  • Children that are born prematurely are at increased risk of vision disabilities, delayed physical development and learning disabilities.
  • An estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely on a global scale. Every year, around one million babies die as a result of this

The study surprised the scientists

The researchers behind the new study measured levels of omega-3 in the red blood cells of 142 participants, all of whom were already participants in the Healthy Mums and Babies Trial (HUMBA) of Manukau, New Zealand. Manukau is a multi-ethnic region with its share of social poverty, overweight problems, and a high rate of premature deliveries. Contrary to the scientists’ hypothesis, the study participants had the same or higher levels of omega-3 in their blood as pregnant women in Austria, Norway, China, and Germany. The scientists therefore recommend measuring blood levels of omega-3 before giving supplements to pregnant women at increased risk of premature delivery. It is also important to consider other nutrients such as selenium, as selenium-deficient women also have an increased risk of giving birth too early. In any case, it is important to get enough omega-3 during pregnancy. The study is published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Danish researchers: Oily fish lower the risk of premature delivery

Pregnant women with low levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, have a statistically significant lower risk of premature delivery compared with pregnant women that have higher levels of omega-3. This was documented in a Danish study from Statens Serum Institut (SSI) in Copenhagen, which is conducted in collaboration with researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, the United States.
The results of this study suggest that pregnant women are able to lower their risk of premature delivery substantially by eating more oily fish or taking fish oil supplements. The study was published in EBiomedicine in 2018.

Eat fish from the lower part of the food chain or take purified fish oil supplements

Pregnant women should be careful with eating predatory fish such as tuna, pike, perch, swordfish, shark, and halibut, as they accumulate higher amounts of mercury and other environmental toxins. It is therefore safer to get your omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish like herring, anchovies, salmon, and mackerel that belong to the lower part of the food chain. Still, salmon from the Baltic Sea may contain too many heavy metals and other toxins. It is therefore preferable to choose salmon from cleaner waters or organically farmed salmon.
High-quality fish oil supplements are also a good solution for those who do not like the taste of fish or simply do not eat enough fish.


Jamie Violet de Seymor and Mary Beatrix Jones. An analysis of omega-3 fatty acid status in a population of pregnant women with obesity, at higher risk of preterm birth. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. March 2020

M Makrides, L Duley, SF Olsen. Fisk oil and other prostaglandin precursor supplementation during pregnancy for reducing pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, low birth weight and intrauterine growth restriction. Cochrane review, 2018

Hilten T Mistry et al. Selenium in reproductive health. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2011


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