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Is a Prenatal Fish Oil Blend the Right Choice?

Updated on August 18, 2012

Fish oil has recently gotten a lot of attention as a miracle supplement for everything from depression to ADHD to high blood pressure. Naturally, this rich natural source of omega-3 fatty acids has also been touted as a useful option for pregnant women who want to ensure an easy, healthy birth. Is a prenatal fish oil blend actually an effective choice for improving infant and mother health? Here's a look at some of the facts.

Fish Oil for Healthy Nervous Systems

A prenatal fish oil blend could be the right choice to support healthy infant neurological growth. One, omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish, eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, supports a healthy immune system and heart while acting as an anti-inflammatory. The other, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, supports development of the central nervous system, eyes and brain. The American Pregnancy Association recommends this substance for both pregnant and lactating women to support the health of their babies.

Fending Off Illness

Babies who get more omega-3s while in the womb or through their mother's milk also often have healthier immune systems thanks to the benefits of EPA. In a study of over 1,000 pregnant women, infants whose mothers took fish oil supplements between 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy and birth had considerably fewer colds at age one month. They also were 14 percent likely to be sick by age three months and had shorter illnesses by 6 months than children whose mothers did not take fish oil.

Allergies and Fish Oil

Because fish oil can help to build a healthier immune response, it may also reduce the risk of allergies. Babies who have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid exposure before birth are less likely to suffer from allergies later in life. Since allergies are due to an inappropriate immune response, fish oil may work to keep the immune system working correctly, encouraging it to respond only to actual threats instead of pet dander or unusual foods.

Benefits for Mom

In addition to providing a number of potential health benefits for unborn babies, prenatal fish oil supplementation can also help mothers. Consuming increased amounts of EPA and DHA has been shown to reduce the risk of pre-term delivery. It also decreases the risk of pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition in pregnant women that's characterized by high blood pressure and large amounts of protein in the urine. Women who take fish oil during pregnancy also tend to have higher birth weight children and a decreased level of depression during pregnancy and after birth.

Fish Oil Vs. Fresh Fish

While fresh whole foods are usually the best choice to support good health, fatty fish during pregnancy can be an exception. That's because these fish often contain trace amounts of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which can be very damaging to unborn babies. This problem is greater in some of the more popular carnivorous fish, such as tuna and salmon, which develop a heavier toxin load due to the large number of smaller fish that they eat.

When properly processed, fish oil supplements do not contain these toxins, while fresh fish often does. This means that pregnant women who want to supplement with large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids may be making a healthier choice by picking supplements over the natural food. Choosing a high-quality supplement that is thoroughly filtered and made only from very fresh fish oil can provide the same benefits as eating large amounts of salmon, but without the risk to your future child.

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