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Researchers in Australia reviewed clinical trials from around the world involving 20,000 pregnant women. In most of the studies, the women took omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil, although in some they ate fish, a natural source of the fatty acids.
Overall, the researchers found that women who consumed omega-3 supplements during pregnancy were 42 percent less likely to have a very preterm birth (a baby born before 34 weeks), than women who didn't consume omega-3 supplements. Their risk of having a later preterm baby (born before 37 weeks) was reduced by 11 percent compared to women who didn't take omega-3 supplements, the analysis found.
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids also seemed to help reduce the risk of having a small baby by 10 percent, the researchers concluded in the Cochrane Review. Experts already recommend getting omega-3 during pregnancy by eating fatty fish twice a week, or taking supplements. Studies show the nutrients are good for babies' eye and brain development. It's not clear whether taking supplements is as effective as eating fish, however.
In a press release, lead study author Philippa Middleton said not all supplements contain enough omega-3. She said her review found the optimal dose for preventing preterm birth is a daily supplement containing between 500 and 1000 mg of long-chain omega-3 fats (with at least 500 milligrams of DHA) starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy. The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming a lower dose of omega-3, however: 250 milligrams of EPA and/or DHA a day. Talk to your provider about your appropriate dose if you plan to take an omega-3 supplement during pregnancy.
Middleton's team offers information on omega-3 supplements for pregnant women. If you do take omega-3 supplements, look for a brand that filters the oil to remove toxins such as PCBs. Check out BabyCenter's advice on how to buy safe and effective supplements.
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