Whilst the importance of nutrition during preconception and pregnancy is well established, often the focus is primarily on the need for micronutrients such as iodine and folate, with other nutrients being sidelined, particularly from a mainstream medical view. However, women in South Australia are now able to access a new screening test that will inform them of their status of one very important pregnancy nutrient: omega-3 fatty acids. The test, which was rolled out in SA late last year, is being offered to women in conjunction with existing first trimester blood tests assessing for foetal anomalies such as neural tubes defects.
The decision to include omega-3 screening as part of routine 1st trimester blood tests is thanks to the results of a Cochrane review from 2018 on the effects of omega-3 status and premature birth risk. The review of 70 randomised controlled trials found that increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy reduced the risk of premature births. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of a premature birth (before 37 weeks) by 11% and reduced the risk of an early premature birth (before 34 weeks) by a whopping 42%. Premature birth is the leading cause of death of children under 5, so being able to utilise nutrition to help significantly prevent the risk is an important tool to have access to.
Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t just involved in reducing the risk of premature birth but are in fact an essential nutrient for many aspects of healthy foetal development, and for the health of mum, too. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for foetal brain and eye development, as well as subsequent neurodevelopment of infants. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy may later protect children against the development of allergies and can even help reduce symptoms of perinatal depression. So which foods are rich in these all-important nutrients? Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, but are also found in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and eggs. Supplements are also available, but it is best to speak with your naturopath or healthcare provider before beginning any nutritional supplement to make sure it is right for you and your needs.
Including nutritional screening such as omega-3 status in early pregnancy is an important step in the right direction when it comes to ensuring a more complete picture of nutritional status for optimal pregnancy outcomes. Testing omega-3 status early in pregnancy means there is opportunity for supplementation to make a big difference in pregnancy and birth outcomes.
Are you pregnant and looking for ways to better support your health? Michelle Blum is a naturopath and acupuncturist based in Brisbane, specialising in women’s health, fertility, and pregnancy. Michelle can work with you to find ways to help support you throughout preconception and pregnancy, optimising the health of both you and your baby. If you’d like to learn more about naturopathic approaches to women’s health, book an appointment with Michelle today.