A new study links low consumption of fish early in pregnancy to higher odds of preterm delivery and low birth weight-suggesting that the omega-3 fats in fish and fish oil supplements might help prevent these complications.
Together with past research suggesting fish oil may lower the risk of premature delivery, these findings lay the groundwork for clinical trials on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy.
Their study of nearly 9000 pregnant women in Denmark found that those who said they currently ate no fish were around three times more likely than those who ate the most to have a premature delivery.
Overall, women who ate some fish were less likely than those who did not to deliver prematurely, and their babies tended to weigh more. For instance, the rate of premature birth among women who ate no fish was about 7%, compared with roughly 2% for women who had fish at least once a week.
Indeed, some fish are considered risky during pregnancy.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women to avoid eating
* king mackerel and
because they may contain high levels of mercury, which can potentially harm the developing fetal nervous system.
According to the researchers, their results suggest that for women who eat little or no fish, small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids -- through either fish or fish oil supplements -- might help reduce the odds of premature delivery or low birth weight.
British Medical Journal February 23, 2002;324:447-450