We know that getting sufficient amounts of fish oil in your diet lowers triglycerides, reduces the risk of heart attack, and slows the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Studies in recent years have also suggested that infants who have high levels of DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in cold water fish) in their blood at birth fare better in tests of brain and eye development during infancy. New research gives mothers-to-be another reason to boost their DHA intake during their third trimester–doing so may reduce symptoms of postpartum depression.
Dr. Michelle Price Judge at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing oversaw a small trial in which 52 pregnant women took either a placebo or a fish oil capsule containing 300 milligrams of DHA five days each week from 24 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. After the women gave birth, Judge and her team surveyed the patients for symptoms of postpartum depression. Researchers found that the women who took the fish oil supplements had significantly fewer symptoms that are commonly linked to postpartum depression, such as anxiety, guilt, and loss of self.
Larger-scale studies are needed to better understand exactly how fish oil consumption can improve maternal mental health. In the meantime, it seems reasonable for pregnant women–especially those worried about postpartum depression–to take a 300 milligram DHA supplement daily.
If you are vegetarian, look for supplements manufactured using microalgae. And if you’re concerned about ingesting mercury from supplements or fresh fish while you are pregnant, talk to your obstetrician and consult these online guides:
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch – Offers downloadable pocket guides that indicate which fish are best to eat and which contain high levels of mercury.
ConsumerLab.com – Conducts independent tests of supplements. For a small fee, you can review their reports and find out which fish oil products are safest.