Pregnant women may be advised to take a supplement from 12 weeks, says Cochrane
Pregnant women who increase their omega-3 intake are less likely to have a premature baby, according to a Cochrane review.
Researchers say their findings confirm that women can start taking a daily dose of omega-3s at the 12-week stage of pregnancy.
"This is an extremely promising finding because we now have strong evidence that omega-3 supplements are a simple and economical intervention to prevent preterm birth," says researcher Maria Makrides of the SA Health and Medical Research Institute.
The review includes 70 randomized clinical trials covering nearly 20,000 women, primarily comparing supplementation with placebo or usual treatment.
Increasing the daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy reduces the risk of having a baby before 37 weeks at 11%, from 134 per 1000 to 119 per 1000 births.
It also reduces the risk of having a premature baby (before 34 weeks) by 42%, from 46 per 1000 to 27 per 1000 births.
Most trials use omega-3 supplements containing docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid instead of dietary changes.
Researchers at the institute, along with those at the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital and the University of Adelaide, conducted the review.
Daily supplement must contain between 500 mg and 1000 mg of omega-3, with at least 500 mg of docosahexaenoic acid, they say.
"A large number of women already take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy, as they are found in a number of over-the-counter pregnancy supplements," says Makrides.
"By increasing omega-3 intake, women may have the best chance of bringing the baby to term for 40 weeks."
More information: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018