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Health & Pregnancy

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Omega-3s May Cut Risk of Postpartum Depression

Study Shows Eating Fatty Fish May Be Helpful in Preventing Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Omega-3s Only Part of the Equation

Most experts agree that omega-3s offer many health benefits but should not be considered a panacea for postpartum depression risk.

“Essential fatty acids including those found in fish may help some women who are at-risk for postpartum depression by bolstering the vesicles that carry mood chemicals such as serotonin in the brain,” says Antolin M. Llorente, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of neuropsychology at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore.

“Some women have seen positive mood changes after taking these supplements and kept taking them, but from a scientific standpoint, it’s too soon to say what role they have in preventing postpartum depression,” he says.

That said, these fatty acids do have positive effects on child growth and development.

“Seek professional assistance if you are at-risk for, or experiencing signs of, postpartum depression,” he says. “Many times you do need medications such as an antidepressant to get through an episode.”

Women with a personal or family history of depression may be at increased risk for developing postpartum depression. “Share this with your obstetrician and team at hospital to make them aware that there is a history and to watch you for any signs and also tell someone on the team if you feel differently or have symptoms that define depression,” Llorente says.

Cassie Vanderwall, RD, an outpatient dietitian at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, routinely counsels pregnant women on nutrition.

“Omega-3s are heart-healthy fats that will benefit brain and cardiovascular system, and there may be some mental health benefits,” she says. “It makes sense that if we eat more omega-3s it would benefit our brain and other organs surrounded by fatty tissues.”

Vanderwall usually encourages people to get their nutrients from food instead of supplements. She typically tells pregnant women to eat fatty fish such as salmon once or twice a week during pregnancy.

Predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish are thought to have high mercury levels and pregnant women should avoid eating these fish.

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