After years of lobbying, nutrition experts succeeded in getting DHA—the key marine omega-3 for child development—added to infant formulas a few years back.And, while we lack conclusive proof, the results of recent research indicate that omega-3s may help prevent premature births.That's an extremely important benefit given the dangers of premature birth ... see Fish Oil Saves "Premie” Babies’ Livers and Lives
Babies born before 32 weeks have the greatest risk of disease and death.
But compared with full-term newborns, "near-term" or "late-preterm" infants born between 32 and 36 weeks, which make up the greatest number of preterm births, also have high rates of health and developmental problems.
These three findings were among the IOM’s dismaying discoveries:
- In 2005, 12.5 percent of births in the United States were preterm: a whopping 30 percent increase over 1981 rates.
- Premature births in the United States cost society an estimated $26 billion or more a year, or $51,600-plus per infant.
- Most of the expense was for medical care in infancy, while maternal care, early intervention services, special education for infants with learning difficulties, and lost household and labor productivity contribute to the cost.
- Multiple births resulting from infertility treatments present a significant risk factor for preterm birth.
- There are large disparities in preterm birth rates among different racial and ethnic groups.
According to Richard E. Behrman, chair of the IOM panel that wrote the report, "Despite great strides in improving the survival of infants born preterm, little is known about how preterm births can be prevented. Any significant gains to be made in the study of preterm birth will be in the area of prevention."
- "Women who deliver prematurely have increased pools of [omega-6 fatty acids] and decreased [omega-3 fatty acids] …Several human pregnancy supplementation trials with [omega-3 fatty acids] have shown a significant reduction in the incidence of premature deliver and increased birth weight associated with increased gestational duration.”
- "Supplementation with long chain [omega-3 fatty acids] such as docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] may be useful in prolonging the duration of gestation in some high-risk pregnancies. Evidence presented in this review is discussed in terms of the roles of dietary [omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids] …and the human trials suggesting that increased dietary long-chain [omega-3 fatty acids] decrease the incidence of premature delivery.”
- Omega-3s could reduce the mother’s production of prostaglandins (hormone-like messenger chemicals) called PGE2 and PGF2a, which are involved in initiating the childbirth process through impacts on labor and the uterine cervix.
- Omega-3s could increase production for certain prostacyclins (PGI2 and PGI3) that may have a relaxant effect on the myometrium (muscular wall of the uterus).
- Omega-3s may have an anti-arrhythmic effect on the myometrium—similar to their anti-arrhythmic effect on the electrical activity of the heart—which could explain their delaying effect on initiation of labor.
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- Olsen SF. Is supplementation with marine omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy a useful tool in the prevention of preterm birth? Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Dec;47(4):768-74; discussion 881-2. Review.
- Szajewska H, Horvath A, Koletzko B. Effect of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation of women with low-risk pregnancies on pregnancy outcomes and growth measures at birth: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6):1337-44. Review.
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