Omega-3s May Lower the Risk of Preterm Birth

Taking omega-3 supplements during pregnancy may lower the risk for preterm birth, a review of studies has found.

The analysis, in the Cochrane Reviews, considered 70 randomized trials that included almost 20,000 women. A few studied fish consumption, but most tested supplements of omega-3 fatty acids, the fats found in fish.

The researchers found high-quality evidence that, compared with women who did not take omega-3s, those who took supplements had an 11 percent lower risk of giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation, and a 42 percent lower risk of a birth before 34 weeks.

They also found high-quality evidence that omega-3s reduced the risk of low birth weight by 10 percent, and moderate-quality evidence that it reduced the risk of perinatal death by 25 percent.

There was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about the effect of omega-3s on serious adverse outcomes among mothers — induction post-term, admission to intensive care, or postnatal depression.

The lead author, Philippa Middleton of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, said that the consequences of premature birth, both short- and long-term, are severe, and it is the world’s leading cause of death among children under 5.

“One of the reasons this is a very big deal is that there’s little else out there that deals with premature birth,” she said. “Omega-3 supplementation is one thing that will make a huge difference to the prematurity rate.”

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