ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA. There is still considerable controversy regarding the role of long chain omega- 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in infant development and little attention has been paid to the requirements of mothers for these nutrients. Two researchers at the University of Adelaide have just released a review of existing research findings concerning these subjects. One clinical trial found that women who supplemented with fish oil (1.5 grams eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and 1 gram docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] daily) from their 30th week of pregnancy extended the pregnancy by 4 days and gave birth to infants weighing an average of 100 grams more that infants born to mothers supplementing with placebos (olive oil). Other studies have failed to confirm these effects. A recent study found that DHA levels decrease rapidly in women after giving birth independent of whether they are breastfeeding or not.
There is speculation that this relative DHA deficiency could be a major factor in postpartum depression, but clinical trials are needed to confirm this. The deficiency can be completely eliminated by supplementing with 200 to 400 mg/day of DHA. The evidence concerning the benefits of maternal DHA supplementation on infant development is inconclusive. One study found that infants with an adequate DHA status at 3 months of age scored better on a mental development test at age 1 year, but not at 2 years of age. The researchers conclude that there is no evidence that maternal DHA supplementation is harmful and that it may have subtle benefits to both mother and infant. However, further clinical trials are needed to verify this.
Makrides, Maria and Gibson, Robert A. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid requirements during pregnancy and lactation. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71 (suppl), 2000, pp. 307S- 11S