Importance of Omega 3 Fatty Acids during Pregnancy
Omega 3 fatty acids are the essential fats that should be included in the pregnant women’s diet. They are good for the mother as well as the baby in the womb. It helps in the development of baby’s brain, retina, nervous system and heart while in the womb and also for several years after birth. It also helps in building a strong immune system.
Kinds or Forms of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
DHA and EPA are the most active forms of Omega 3 fatty acids, which help in improving the health of the baby.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - Derived from foods, such as walnuts and soybeans and some vegetable oils, such as canola, walnut, soybean and flax. This is not produced by your body.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Produced by your body but may not be sufficient. So, it is better to get it through food or a DHA supplement as prescribed by your doctor.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Like DHA, EPA is also produced by your body, but it is again better to get it through food or an EPA supplement as prescribed by your doctor.
Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to be beneficial for both the mother and the baby in the womb.
DHA helps in the development of brain, retina and nervous system, and EPA helps in the development of heart, strong immunity, and inflammatory response.
It reduces allergic reactions due to pregnancy on both the mother and the baby.
It reduces the risk of preterm labour and delivery and also the risk of high blood pressure (preeclampsia).
It helps to prevent low birth weight in babies.
It also helps in making breastmilk after birth
Dietary Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Have a quick look at the dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Make sure that you seek your doctor’s approval before including any of the below mentioned food items in your diet during pregnancy.
Fish and Other Seafood
Fish and other seafood contain high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids. It also contains high amount of protein, vitamin D and other beneficial nutrients. However, it still concerns people because of the mercury and other harmful toxins present in fish that may harm the baby's growing brain and nervous system.
Experts say fish, such as salmon (Ravas), mackerel (Bangda), sardines (Padve), rainbow trout, herring (Hilsa), tuna (Chura) and anchovies (Mandeli) are safe to eat. On the other hand, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, shell fish and tilefish should not be consumed as they have high levels of mercury. It is better to consult your doctor on the type and quantity of fish to eat depending upon your pregnancy status.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil supplements contain fish oil and are free from mercury. Thus, they provide good amount of Omega 3 fatty acids. ISSFAL (The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids) allows 300 mg of DHA daily for pregnant and lactating women. However, others recommend a daily intake of 200 mg of DHA. It is always better to consult your doctor regarding the intake of supplements.
Fish oil supplements are available in various forms, such as liquid, chewable, and gel form. For vegetarians, a particular supplement is available, which is made from algae rather than fish. It has no mercury and no fish flavour. But again it is necessary to consult your doctor before including them in your pregnancy diet as there are disadvantages associated to its consumption during pregnancy.
Walnut, Flax Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, and Vegetable Oil
Walnut, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and vegetable oil, such as canola oil, flax oil, pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil and soybean oil. These contain ALA that is converted to EPA and DHA by your body to become useful. However, it is believed that conversion rarely happens in humans and if it does, it is a very slow process making it a useless effort.
Foods with added DHA such as orange juice, milk and eggs are also available. These foods should be marked as “fortified” on the cover. Be sure that you consult your doctor before including any of these foods in your diet during pregnancy.
Risks Involved with Excessive Intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Taking fish oil and algae oil (which include omega 3 acids and vitamins) along with other pregnancy vitamins, can cause you to eat excessive vitamins, like A, D and E. This can lead to bleeding problems, such as blood in urine or nose-bleed and can also lead to cancer. It can also cause bloating, gas or diarrhoea.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oils are good sources of Omega 3, but some studies show that these have harmful effects on animals during pregnancy. No tests have been done till now on humans.
Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, are beneficial for the mother and the baby in the womb. Regular consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids as advised by the doctor should be taken by the mother.
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- The Indiaparenting Team