Pregnant and postpartum women aren't getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, putting the development of their babies' nervous and immune systems at risk.
Pregnant and lactating women are not meeting recommendations for daily docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) consumption, a recent Canadian cohort study found. Sufficient amounts of fatty acids in both the mother and child are required for the child's nervous system and immune system to fully develop.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women are not meeting current guidelines for omega-3 consumption, either through their diets or with dietary supplements.
- Researchers suggest that the recommendations for DHA consumption should be better explained to pregnant and postpartum patients, especially those who are breastfeeding.
After analyzing data from 24-hour recall and supplement intake questionnaires of 600 pregnant women, researchers at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary determined that most women were not consuming enough omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. The questionnaire responses, which were conducted in person during pregnancy visits and at 3 months' postpartum, revealed that approximately one third of the women took DHA supplements at 1 or more of the measured points.
Overall, only 27% of women during pregnancy and 25% of women at 3 months' postpartum met the current European Union consensus recommendation for consuming a minimum of 200 mg of DHA per day, the authors reported.
Even then, the biggest factor was eating seafood, not dietary supplements, they said. “Seafood, fish, and seaweed products contributed to 79% of overall n-3 [omega 3] long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids intake from foods, with the majority from salmon,” they found.
Still, women who reported taking a supplement were 10.6 and 11.1 times more likely to meet the current recommended intake of the fatty acid during pregnancy and postpartum, respectively. The study relied on the European Commission and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommendation that pregnant and lactating women consume a minimum of 200 mg of DHA per day in establishing a threshold. They did note, however, that the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada recommend consuming at least 500 mg/d of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Finally, the authors suggest that the recommendations for DHA consumption need to be better explained to postpartum women who are breastfeeding. The study showed that only 44% of the women who reported taking a supplement during pregnancy continued to take the supplement when breastfeeding.
The study abstract is available here.