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Omega-3 during pregnancy may boost baby’s immune system

Multivitamins? Check. Folic acid? Check. Enough iron? Check. Eating from all five food groups? Check. What about Omega-3?

While it is no secret that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can impact the well-being of her child, many mothers may be unaware of a new potential benefit in protecting their baby’s health.

A recent study published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics suggests taking Omega-3 supplements, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while pregnant can prevent illnesses during early infancy. The study looked at over 1000 pregnant women randomly assigned to either the treatment or the control group. The women took either 2 DHA Omega-3 or placebo capsules daily from the time they were 18 weeks pregnant through to 22 months after pregnancy.

Details and results

The infants were examined at one, three, and six months of age. At these times, the mothers were asked about the occurrences and duration of common cold symptoms such as, phlegm, nasal congestion, nasal secretion, or cough. They were also asked whether they were currently breastfeeding their child and if they gave their child any supplementary food or liquid such as milk or formula.

The researchers found that at one month, the infants whose mothers took the Omega-3 supplements experienced shorter durations of cold symptoms and a reduced occurrence of cold symptoms overall by 25 percent compared to the placebo group. At three months of age, the infants in the DHA group spent 14 percent less time sick. Lastly, at six months, the infants whose mothers had taken the DHA omega-3 had shorter duration of fever, runny nose, and breathing problems. However, vomiting lasted longer for the infants in the DHA group, a finding which cannot yet be explained.

More research needs to be done to determine whether taking 400 milligrams of the Omega-3 supplement DHA  during pregnancy is just as effective as taking it during the time the baby is breastfed. However, based on the findings of this study, it is safe to say that Omega-3 fatty acids consumed at stages while the infant is still getting the mother’s nutrients can help protect its overall well-being for up to six months after birth. Since this form of fish oil is easily found in most health food isles, why not give it a try and decrease your baby's chances of experiencing those nasty cold symptoms?

For more information, please read Omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and Pregnancy and nutrition. 

Ali Elliott
Editorial Intern, AboutKidsHealth


Imhoff-Kunsch B, Stein A, Martorell R, et al. "Prenatal Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation and Infant Morbidity: Randomized Controlled Trial". Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2011