Eating Fish During Pregnancy
Not only is fish a great source of protein, it also is a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are very beneficial for pregnant woman and their developing babies. Unfortunately, because of potential toxins like mercury in fish, many pregnant women do not get enough omega-3 EFAs in their diets and should supplement with other sources. In this case, plant sources of omega-3 EFAs or fish oil supplements should be used to maintain adequate amounts of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for both the mother and baby because a developing fetus obtains these EFAs through the mother's dietary consumption.
These plant-based sources aren't as easy for the body to process as fish or fish oil supplements, but they do provide omega-3 EFAs. The best are flaxseed oil, canola oil, chia seeds, walnuts, walnut oil, grass-reared meat, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
Omega-3 EFAs offer many benefits to both the pregnant mother and the developing child, including in prolonging gestation and preventing preterm labor. One of the most interesting studies on omega-3 EFA supplementation and infants showed a sustained increase in intelligence and visual acuity at 4 years of age in children whose mothers were supplemented with fish oil from 18 weeks of pregnancy to three months postpartum.
Depletion of omega-3 EFAs during pregnancy can be harmful for both mother and infant. Several studies now show that mothers can develop postpartum depression when they become depleted of omega-3 EFAs and, in particular, DHA. An adequate supply of DHA in the mother is necessary to support optimal neurological development of the fetus and infant and is especially important for the development of nerve cells.
DHA or EPA depletion due to pregnancy is also associated with major depression. Several investigators have reported lower blood concentrations of omega-3 fats among depressed subjects. Supplementation with EFAs during and after pregnancy is now considered standard in most obstetrical practices in order to provide sufficient amounts of EFAs to both mother and child.