A new study shows babies born to women who took fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids during the last half of pregnancy had better hand-eye coordination as toddlers than babies born to women who took olive oil supplements containing other types of omega fatty acids.
Researchers say the type of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are essential for normal brain and vision development, but few studies have looked at the safety or potential benefits of supplementing pregnant women’s diets with fish oil.
"These preliminary data indicate that supplementation with a relatively high-dose fish oil during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy is not only safe, but also seems to have potential beneficial effects that need to be explored further," write researcher J. A. Dunstan, of the University of Western Australia, and colleagues in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Study on Fish Oil Supplements During Pregnancy
In the study, 98 healthy pregnant women were divided into two groups and given either 4 grams of fish oil supplements or 4 grams of olive oil supplements daily from the 20th week of their pregnancy until delivery.
Once their children were 2 1/2-years-old, the researchers tested the toddlers' language, hand-eye coordination, and other skills.
The results showed children of mothers who took fish oil supplements scored significantly higher on tests of hand-eye coordination than those who took olive oil supplements, even after taking other factors, such as the mother’s age and duration of breastfeeding, into account.
The researchers also found that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in cord blood samples taken at birth were strongly associated with good hand-eye coordination.
There were no significant differences in overall language skills and growth between the two groups.
The researchers say concerns about mercury content in certain types of fish have made pharmaceutical-grade fish oil supplements increasingly popular among pregnant women.
This study's results suggest taking the supplements during the second half of pregnancy does not have negative effects and may, in fact, have beneficial effects on babies’ neurological development that merit further study.