Omega-3 and pregnancy: New Cochrane Review reveals reduced risk of pre-term births

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Daily omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of birth before 37 weeks by 11 per cent, and reduces the risk of birth before 34 weeks by 42 per cent. ©GettyImages
Daily omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of birth before 37 weeks by 11 per cent, and reduces the risk of birth before 34 weeks by 42 per cent. ©GettyImages
Increasing omega‐3 intake during pregnancy, either through supplements or in foods, may reduce the incidence of pre-term births and the likelihood of having a baby with a low birthweight, according to a new Cochrane Review.

The review was conducted by South Australian Health and Medical Research Institue's (SAHMRI) Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children team in collaboration with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the University of Adelaide. 

Academics assessed 70 randomised controlled trials, involving 19,927 women, in order to update a review originally conducted in 2006.

Professor Maria Makrides, Theme Leader and Deputy Director of SAHMRI, said the study found that daily omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of birth before 37 weeks by 11 per cent, and reduces the risk of birth before 34 weeks by 42 per cent. 

There were also fewer babies with low birthweight. However, omega‐3 intake also increased the incidence of pregnancies continuing beyond 42 weeks, although there was no difference identified in induction of labour for post‐term pregnancies.

The researchers stated “The risk of the baby dying or being very sick and going to neonatal intensive care may be lower with omega3 compared with no omega3."

Eleven trials reported that they had received industry funding. But when the results were omitted, it made very little, or no difference, to the findings.

Promising finding

Professor Makrides added: “This is an extremely promising finding because we now have strong evidence that omega-3 supplements are a simple and cost-effective intervention to prevent premature birth, which we know has serious health implications.”

“Premature birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under five years of age. 

“Premature babies are at greater risk of chronic issues with their respiratory, immune and digestive systems and they’re more susceptible to problems with speech, social skills, learning and behaviour.”​ 

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Professor Makrides’ team suggests women expecting a single baby begin taking a daily dose of omega-3 at the 12-week stage of their pregnancy. The supplement needs to contain between 500 and 1000 milligrams of omega-3 with at least 500 milligrams of DHA. 

South Australian Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade MLC, congratulated the researchers on their work, saying a reduction in premature births would have widespread benefits for the community.

The review concluded: “More studies are underway and their results will be included in a further update of this review. Future studies could consider if and how outcomes may vary in different populations of women, and could test different ways of increasing omega3 intake during pregnancy.”

Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003402.pub3

"Omega‐3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy"

Authors: Philippa Middleton, et al.

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