• A new study suggests that fish oil supplementation had a general growth stimulating effect on your baby. (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
A new study suggests that taking fish oil supplements during late-stage pregnancy may be beneficial for your baby’s healthy growth right up until they turn six.
Yasmin Noone

5 Sep 2018 - 9:25 AM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2018 - 1:03 PM

If you want to boost your baby’s growth, European researchers believe it might be a good idea to take fish oil supplements while you’re in the later stages of pregnancy.

A new study from Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, published in the BMJ today, shows that taking a fish oil supplement during pregnancy is linked to an increase in lean mass, bone mass and fat mass by the time a child is aged six.

The study demonstrates that taking fish oil supplements from the 24th week of pregnancy right up until a week after birth may be beneficial for a child's healthy growth in early life.

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Previous studies suggest that taking a fish oil supplement while you’re pregnant could increase your child’s BMI in the first six years of their life.

However, this research demonstrates that the increase in BMI might not increase their risk of obesity or overweight.

The study reveals the driver of the rise in BMI is not more body fat but instead, more bone, lean and fat mass.

"Fish oil supplementation from the 24th week of pregnancy led to a higher BMI in the offspring from zero to six years of age but not an increased risk of obesity at age six," the study paper reads.

“The body composition at age six years in children given fish oil supplementation was characterised by a proportional increase in lean, bone, and fat mass, suggesting a general growth stimulating effect."

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Melanie McGrice, Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia  supports the study's findings.

“This study confirms what we know about the benefits of omega 3 during pregnancy,” McGrice tells SBS. 

“Omega 3 is a critical nutrient during pregnancy. 

“I believe that it’s better for women to consume low mercury, omega 3-rich fish during pregnancy, but if they can’t tolerate fish, fish oil supplements should definitely be considered.”

The trial involved 736 pregnant women from the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood study who were randomised to receive n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) (fish oil) or olive oil (control) daily from week 24 of pregnancy until one week after birth.

Height, weight, head and waist measurements and body composition were assessed 11 times from birth to age six.

Body composition was also scanned when the children were aged 3.5 and six.

"Fish oil supplementation from the 24th week of pregnancy led to a higher BMI in the offspring from zero to six years of age but not an increased risk of obesity at age six."

The scans confirmed that the higher BMI was not the result of a higher fat percentage, but reflected a proportional increase in lean mass, bone mass, and fat mass.

This suggested that the fish oil supplementation had a general growth stimulating effect.

At age six, scans showed children whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements while pregnant had a 395g higher total mass, 280.7g higher lean mass, 10.3g higher bone mineral content and 116.3g higher fat mass compared with children of mothers who took the control oil. 

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A study published in 2008 says that omega 3 fatty acids are essential for fetal neurodevelopment and may be important for the timing of gestation and birth weight as well.

But most pregnant women do not get enough omega 3 fatty acids. The study reasons this is because the major dietary source, seafood, is restricted to two servings a week of low mercury fish. 

"For pregnant women to obtain adequate omega 3 fatty acids, a variety of sources should be consumed: vegetable oils, two low-mercury fish servings a week, and supplements (fish oil or algae-based docosahexaenoic acid)," the study reads.

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