You've probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids and know that they're good for you. These polyunsaturated fats, found in foods such as fish, flax, chia, and walnuts, are also called "essential" fatty acids (EFAs) because our body cannot synthesize them itself - we can only get them through our food. Omega-3s have powerful properties: they are cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, support strong bones, prevent depression and lower menstrual pain.
Omega-3s are also crucial to fetal development. They're so crucial, in fact, that it is common for fetuses to pull them from the mother's body and leave the mother deficient (welcome to motherhood!). Omega-3 metabolites play a role in the development of the baby's:
- central nervous system
Maternal omega-3 deficiencies can result in a baby with a low birth weight, shorter attention span, lower IQ, allergies, autoimmune diseases like eczema, and a poorly developed central nervous system. Proper maternal intake can reduce the incidence of premature delivery and preeclampsia, as well as support good moods and improve cognitive capacity in mothers.
New research suggests that adequate salmon consumption during pregnancy also increases the omega-3 concentration of breast milk, thereby increasing delivery to the newborn. Non-water matter in human breast milk is approximately 54% fat; omega-3s are an important part of that percentage.
If you're going to get your omega-3s from fish, it's imperative to select low-mercury choices. Mercury has severe effects on fetuses and small children, ranging from developmental delays to autism, cerebral palsy or mental retardation. Some excellent resources for selecting low-mercury fish:
- Environmental Defense Fund: Seafood Health Alerts
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Mercury Contamination in Fish
- Downloadable Safe Sushi Wallet Card
- Hudson, T. (2008). Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill.
- Jacobson, H. (2004). Mother Food: Food and herbs that promote milk production and a mother's health. Rosalind Press.