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Can a maternal intake of Omega-3 supplements increase foetal brain development?
There is presently no scientific proof that taking a supplement of Omega 3 essential fatty acids enhances the development of foetal brain development. It is, however, important to try and include natural sources of Omega 3 essential fatty acids in your diet during pregnancy. This particular group of nutrients are needed for normal development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. There is also some evidence that a good intake of Omega 3 essential fatty acids helps keep pregnancy going, thus ensuring that the baby has plenty of time to grow to a healthy birthweight (and, as you may have heard recently in the news, there appears to be a link between a healthy birthweight and later intelligence). The most important natural source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids is oily fish – mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines. Nutritionists suggest that pregnant women aim to eat oily fish two or three times a week. If you really do not like fish, you may like to talk to your midwife or GP about taking a fish oil supplement. If you do this, it is important to avoid a supplement containing the ‘retinol’ form of vitamin A. Your pharmacist should be able to suggest a supplement that is safe to take during pregnancy. Vegetarian diets are often lacking in Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Flaxseed (sprinkle it on your breakfast cereal) is one source. Others are pulses, walnuts, broccoli and leafy green vegetables. Don’t forget that your baby’s brain will continue to develop after birth. Breastfeeding has a proven beneficial effect on the brain development of both term and pre-term babies. Recent research demonstrated that babies who are not breastfed, or are breastfed for less than three months, are more likely to have below-average intelligence in later years than babies who are breastfed for six months or longer. Experts think that this may be due to a number of factors, including the unique nutrient balance of breastmilk and the increased intimacy between mother and baby that breastfeeding brings.