According to a recent study which was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood’ in 2006, babies born to women who took fish oil supplements during the last 4 months of pregnancy had better hand to eye coordination, were better speakers and could understand more at the age of two and a half, than babies born to mothers who were given olive oil instead.

The Study

The double blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial was conducted by the University of Western Australia and led by Professor Susan Prescott. Also involved in the study were King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Centre for Child Health Research Australia.

A total of 98 women were initially enrolled in the study, all of who were non smokers and who did not regularly consume more than 2 portions of oily fish a week. A total of eighty three of these women completed the study. Researchers gave half of the women in the trial 4gr of fish oil supplements on a daily basis from twenty weeks of pregnancy and these supplements contained a combination of both Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The remainder of the women were given 4gr of Olive Oil. Development checks were carried out on a total of 72 of the babies when they had reached the age of two and a half years.

The children whose mothers received fish oil had a significantly higher score for eye-hand coordination than the babies whose mothers had been given olive oil instead. The growth rates were similar in both groups, as were the general language skills, however, the fish oil group showed higher scores for receptive language, phrase length and vocabulary. The positive results were not related to possibly influential factors such as maternal age and length of time breastfeeding as these factors had already been accounted for.

Fatty acids and the brain

The link between Omega 3 fatty acids and the brain has already been well established and many studies have now shown that fish oil can alleviate the symptoms or help to prevent the onset of several types of depressive disorders, including post natal depression. EPA in particular is believed to improve concentration and memory and cognitive function in general, and some studies have shown it can even help to prevent or slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is during the last three months of pregnancy that the baby’s brain is developing very rapidly and so this is a time when it is particularly vital that the mother gets enough of the essential Omega 3 fatty acids that are only found in any significant quantities in oily fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Herring and Anchovies. These fatty acids facilitate healthy structure and development of the brain and many professionals now believe it is DHA that is important for the structure of the brain and EPA for efficient functioning of the brain on a day to day basis.