- An updated review of 70 randomised controlled trials involving almost 20,000 women, reports that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy reduces the risk of having a preterm baby (before 37 weeks) by 11% and an early preterm baby (before 34 weeks) by 42%.
- The authors also reported a 10% statistically significant reduced risk of low birthweight babies. Premature birth is associated with a higher risk of health and developmental issues, and is the global-leading cause of death for children under five years old.
- The authors suggest that pregnant women take an omega-3 supplement daily with at least 500 mg DHA.
Higher intakes of foods containing omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), such as fish, during pregnancy have been associated with longer gestations and improved perinatal outcomes. This is an update of a review that was first published in 2006.
To assess the effects of omega-3 LCPUFA, as supplements or as dietary additions, during pregnancy on maternal, perinatal, and neonatal outcomes and longer-term outcomes for mother and child.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing omega-3 fatty acids (as supplements or as foods, stand-alone interventions, or with a co-intervention) during pregnancy with placebo or no omega-3, and studies or study arms directly comparing omega-3 LCPUFA doses or types. Trials published in abstract form were eligible for inclusion.
In the overall analysis, preterm birth < 37 weeks and early preterm birth < 34 weeks were reduced in women receiving omega-3 LCPUFA compared with no omega-3. There was a possibly reduced risk of perinatal death and of neonatal care admission, a reduced risk of LBW babies; and possibly a small increased risk of LGA babies with omega-3 LCPUFA.
For our GRADE quality assessments, we assessed most of the important perinatal outcomes as high-quality (e.g. preterm birth) or moderate-quality evidence (e.g. perinatal death). For the other outcome domains (maternal, child/adult and health service outcomes) GRADE ratings ranged from moderate to very low, with over half rated as low. Reasons for downgrading across the domain were mostly due to design limitations and imprecision.
Omega-3 LCPUFA supplementation during pregnancy is an effective strategy for reducing the incidence of preterm birth, although it probably increases the incidence of post-term pregnancies. More studies comparing omega-3 LCPUFA and placebo (to establish causality in relation to preterm birth) are not needed at this stage. A further 23 ongoing trials are still to report on over 5000 women, so no more RCTs are needed that compare omega-3 LCPUFA against placebo or no intervention. However, further follow-up of completed trials is needed to assess longer-term outcomes for mother and child, to improve understanding of metabolic, growth and neurodevelopment pathways in particular, and to establish if, and how, outcomes vary by different types of omega-3 LCPUFA, timing and doses; or by characteristics of women.