You are here

Fish Oil Supplements Don’t Make Babies Smarter


Good news for those of us who were feeling guilty for not taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy, reports the New York Times. A large study published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid; an omega-3 fatty acid and a key ingredient in fish oil) supplements taken by pregnant women do not show a clear cognitive benefit to their babies, and that DHA does not reduce postpartum depression, except potentially in women at high risk for it.

Some earlier studies suggested that, if taken during pregnancy, DHA could aid in a baby’s brain development, but the studies were small or only observed women already taking fish oil, possibly indicating they were more health-conscious overall. The new study, a clinical trial that included more than 2,000 participants, followed women who received either fish oil with DHA or a vegetable oil placebo and then assessed their babies.

DHA, which is naturally transmitted to a fetus through the placenta in the second half of pregnancy, is thought to be important to visual and brain development, but the study found no cognitive difference in the babies at 18 months, possibly suggesting that full-term babies get sufficient DHA in the womb, and that supplementation was unnecessary. Additional assessments are planned at ages 4 and 7.

Although the study didn’t find that DHA made babies smarter, several experts said they would continue to support taking DHA in pregnancy because it did suggest that DHA supplementation in pregnancy reduces the likelihood of premature birth. The study also found that it slightly decreased postpartum depression in women with histories or high risk of depression.

Did you take DHA supplements during your pregnancy?