Q&A With Dr Aliya: The Importance Of Fish Consumption During Pregnancy

Knowing what to eat while pregnant can be tricky, but did you know how important fish is to an expecting moms diet?

Q.  Why are omega-3s and fish consumption so important during pregnancy?

A.  Our knowledge of the nutritional needs in pregnancy is constantly evolving and expanding. Recently, research has proven the importance of omega-3 fatty acids for both the development of the growing baby and the health of the mother.   

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that your body cannot naturally produce on its own and therefore must be obtained from diet and/or supplementation. The most biologically active omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docossahexaenoic acid (DHA).  

Although EPA and DHA naturally occur and work together, both have their own unique benefits in pregnancy.

“EPA is especially important for mom” report Drs Sue Love and Sapna Flower, naturopathic doctors at Restore Integrative Health in Toronto. “It can be helpful for the mother’s mood, helping with anxiety and depression and can decrease the ‘baby brain’ effect” says Dr. Love. It also reduces the chance of pre-term labour and lowers the likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression. 

DHA is critical for the baby’s developing brain, nervous system and visual system.  In fact, animal studies have demonstrated that deprivation of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy is associated with visual and behaviour deficits that are not reversed with post-natal supplementation.

For these reasons, Dr Flower recommends that pregnant women consume at least 300 mg of DHA per day to help optimize pregnancy outcomes and ensure fetal health. 

Good sources of these fatty acids (EPA + DHA) include oily coldwater fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, trout and salmon. Recent surveys, however, indicate that pregnant women don’t eat enough fish and therefore do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids, primarily due to concerns about the adverse effects of mercury and other contaminants on the developing fetus. 

From a nutritional perspective, Drs Love and Flower suggest that a pregnant woman can achieve an adequate and beneficial amount of omega-3 fatty acids, while minimizing their exposure to mercury, by limiting their fish intake to 2 servings per week.

Taking a good quality fish oil from a health food store is also a great alternative to ensure you’re getting enough omega-3’s from safe sources. You can also find omega-3 fortified eggs, bread and juice.  Supplements, particularly for pregnant women, are also available. Speak to your naturopathic doctor or family physician should you have any questions.

References: Nesheim MC, Yaktine AL, editors. Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2007.

Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Ausdal WV. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Fall; 1(4):162-9

Do you have a question for Dr. Aliya? Send an email to editor@babypost.com with Dr. Aliya in the subject line and check back every Thursday to see what Dr. Aliya is writing about each week!

A health practitioner, chiropractor and acupuncturist with a distinct integrative care approach, Aliya brings extensive experience in pre-natal and pediatric wellness to her clinical practice at Restore Integrative Health  in Toronto. She is also a runner, yoga instructor and new mother.

Visit her website at draliya.ca or follow her on Twitter @DrAliyaVisram or on Instagram @DrAliyaVisramDC

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