Omega-3 and Postpartum Depression

Have you ever heard the comment that fish is brain food? Although that seems to be a cultural saying, the fact is that science backs it up. Fish, especially oily, cold water fish like salmon, cod, and herring, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are important to brain and nerve health. Although it is possible to get enough in your diet, pregnant women and infants need extra, especially since babies in the womb take their source of DHA from their mothers and nursing babies also get their supply in the breast milk. However, a depletion of this vital nutrient has far-reaching effects for women who are not supplemented adequately through their pregnancy.

Omega-3 and DHA Critical to Baby's Development

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, omega-3 fat and its derivative DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are so critical to a child's development that if a mother and infant are deficient in it, the child's nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders. DHA comprises 15 to 20 percent of the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the front of the brain) and 30 to 60 percent of the retina of the eye, which makes it vitally necessary for normal development of a baby both in and out of the womb.

Dr. Juliane Kleiner, head of the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) wrote:

"DHA has a structural and functional role in the brain and retina and maternal DHA intake can contribute to the early development of the eye and normal cognitive development in the fetus and the [breast]-fed infant."

An adequate supply of omega-3 in the mother's body ensures proper development of the baby and maximizes the intelligence of the child; protects from brain injuries such as autism, pervasive developmental delay, and ADHD. When taken especially during the third trimester, sufficient levels of omega-3 fats optimize brain growth in babies in utero.


Omega-3 and Postpartum Depression

Additionally, recent compelling research has shown the omega-3 deficiency in pregnant women is a factor in postpartum depression. Dr. Michelle Price Judge, a faculty member at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing, demonstrated the value of maternal consumption of omega-3s and the profound effect it had upon the baby. In 2011, she went on to present findings of a study she lead to determine if omega-3 deficiency had any bearing on postpartum depression.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled dietary intervention trial involving 52 pregnant women were given a placebo of corn oil or a fish oil capsule containing 300 milligrams of DHA 5 days a week from the 24th through the 40th weeks of pregnancy. The amount is equivalent to a half-serving of salmon. (It is worth noting that common dietary DHA intake during pregnancy in the US has been estimated to be 50 to 70 milligrams of DHA daily. Pregnancy experts suggest 200 milligrams of DHA during pregnancy is optimal.)

Using a Postpartum Depression Screening Scale that was developed by Dr. Judge's colleague and coauthor of the study, Dr. Cheryl Beck, Dr. Judge was able to categorize postpartum women as having negligible depressive symptoms, significant symptoms of postpartum depression, or being "positive" for this condition. The Postpartum Depression Screening Scale also helped the research team in discerning between several other symptoms that are peculiar to the disorder, including:

· sleeping/eating disturbances

· anxiety

· emotional liability

· confusion

· loss of self

· guilt

· thoughts of suicide

Study Proves Omega-3 Helps Prevent Postpartum Depression

The study did not have enough participants to determine incidence of diagnosable postpartum depression, nevertheless, women in the treatment group had significantly lower total Postpartum Depression Screening Scale scores with significantly fewer accompanying symptoms of depression. They concluded that, "DHS consumption during pregnancy - at levels that are reasonably attained from foods - has the potential to decrease symptoms of postpartum depression."

The reason this information is so important is that experts figure nearly one-quarter of all new mothers in the US suffer with postpartum depression - a condition that can have devastating ramifications for everyone involved, including the newborn, other children, and of course - the mother.

Large scale studies are being done to further advance these findings. In the meantime, a pregnant woman is wise to up her intake of omega3 during her pregnancy and afterward to ensure her health and that of her baby.

Learn more about Omega-3 fatty acids and their impact upon pregnancy and birth in our article on this site.


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