A study published online in the journal Pediatrics suggests that consuming omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy helps to protect babies against illness during early infancy.
The brain is made from omega-3 fats, so these fats are crucial for development and maintenance of the brain and nervous system, especially in young children. Essential fatty acids have also been found to play an important role in memory, brain function, and heart health, and have been proven to help children who have behavioral and learning challenges.
This randomized, placebo-controlled trial followed approximately 1,100 pregnant women and 900 infants in Mexico. The women were supplemented daily with 400 mg of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) supplements in the algal form or placebo from 18 to 22 weeks gestation through childbirth.
Researchers found those whose mothers took DHA supplements had fewer colds and shorter illnesses at one, three and six months of age.
"This is a large scale, robust study that underscores the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy," said one of the study authors. "Our findings indicate that pregnant women taking 400 mg of DHA are more likely to deliver healthier infants."
- At one month of age, the infants in the DHA group experienced a reduced occurrence of cold symptoms by 25 percent, including a shorter duration of cough, phlegm and wheezing.
- At age three months, the infants in the DHA group spent 14 percent less time ill.
- At six months, infants in the DHA group had shorter duration of fever, nasal secretion, difficulty breathing and rash, though longer duration of vomiting.
The same team previously reported findings that show offspring of women pregnant with their first child who received 400 mg DHA during pregnancy delivered babies who were 100 grams heavier at birth and 3/4 cm longer at 18 months of age.
The study also found increased DHA levels in breast milk. All of the infants participating in the study were breastfed.
Good Sources of omega-3 Fatty Acids
DHA is one of the long-chain fatty acids that form omega-3 - another beneficial component is EPA. When buying an omega-3 supplement, look for high levels of these two essential fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found foods such as oily fish like salmon, herring and mackerel, or in flaxseed and walnuts.
Research Paper Details:
Imhoff-Kunsch B, Stein AD, Martorell R, et al. Prenatal Docosahexaenoic acid Supplementation and Infant Morbidity: Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics, September, 2011.