The omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is the most abundant fat in our brains and retinas.
And DHA is proven critical to a growing child’s brain, vision, and immune system.
Seafood – especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna – is the only significant food source of DHA.
Of course, omega-3 DHA can also be extracted from fish or algae, and taken as a dietary supplement.
People can make tiny amounts of DHA from the plant-source omega-3 called ALA … enough to get by, but not enough to fully thrive. 
Babies benefit from DHA
Children appear to gain from above-average amounts of DHA.
The largest, best-designed study of its kind – led by top NIH researcher Joseph Hibbeln, M.D. – confirmed this very convincingly: see Findings Verify Safety and Value of Higher Maternal Fish Intake.
The results showed that the children of mothers who ate more fish than most scored higher on tests of intelligence, social and verbal skills, and showed greater physical dexterity.
There’s plenty more evidence that omega-3s bring developmental benefits:
That said, some studies testing supplemental DHA haven't detected benefits … see Babies Got No Omega-3 Brain Gains
The negative studies usually ended before the age of four, but the brain benefits of higher maternal omega-3 intakes may not appear until age four or older.
And the "Bayley-scales" brain test used in many of those trials is now considered a poor predictor of later brain performance.
Many pregnant women lack sufficient DHA
The evidence of brain and eye benefits is clear enough that U.S. and world health authorities approve and encourage addition of DHA to infant formula as developmental "insurance”.
That same evidence explains the advice issued last year by the U.S. FDA and EPA … see Feds Advise Kids and Pregnant Women to Eat More Fish.
It also explains why an expert Advisory Committee to the USDA recently recommended that Americans – including mothers and children – eat more seafood: see Experts’ Advice to U.S. Urges More Seafood.
Unfortunately, average DHA intake in the U.S. is very low, and it’s hard to acquire optimal amounts without seafood or DHA-rich fish oil.
Earlier this year, a study found that expectant Canadian women – whose diets closely resemble those of American women – aren’t getting enough DHA (see Pregnant Women Need More Omega-3s).
(Vegetarians may convert ALA to DHA more efficiently, but the sole study on this subject may be misleading, as explained in Fish-Avoiders Have More Omega-3s than Expected.)
Now, a study from Australia reinforces prior indications that supplemental DHA can help prevent premature births.
Analysis affirms that omega-3 DHA can deter premature births
Professor Maria Makrides leads a research group at Australia’s Adelaide University.
She and her team are among the most prolific researchers into the effects of omega-3s on child development.
In 2008, her group found that the amount of DHA needed for optimum visual acuity in premature babies was triple the intake recommended by Australian authorities.
In their new study, Prof. Makrides’ analyzed data collected from the "DHA to Optimize Mother and Infant Outcomes” trial (DOMInO).
That placebo-controlled clinical trial – also conducted by her team – involved 2,399 pregnant women, some of whom were assigned to take 800mg of omega-3 DHA per day (in fish oil capsules).
The results of the original DOMInO trial, published in 2010, indicated that supplemental DHA during pregnancy could reduce the risk of premature birth.
The indications from Dr. Makrides’ new analysis are even more positive, suggesting that DHA can cut the risk of premature birth in half (Ahmed S et al. 2015).
And her team calculated that avoidance of premature birth would reduce in-patient hospital costs by an average of 92 Australian dollars per pregnancy.
The annual cost savings to the Australian public hospital system was estimated at 15 and 51 million Australian dollars.
Of course, avoidance of premature birth brings benefits to babies and their caregivers that can’t be calculated in dollars.
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