Becoming mum
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Essential fatty acids and your pregnancy diet

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Key points

  • Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) help your baby develop during pregnancy
  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids because they can only be obtained through diet
  • Omega-3 supports a baby’s heart, brain and vision. Omega-6 supports heart health and positively affects cholesterol

Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) help the body function normally. They are important for both your own health and your baby’s normal development throughout pregnancy.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two families of LCPs that have been named essential fatty acids because the body is unable to make them. They can only be obtained through your diet.

Omega-3: supporting baby’s heart, brain and vision

Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce risk factors of developing heart disease. This type of fatty acid also plays an important role in the development of your baby’s brain, nervous system and eyes, and contributes to normal cognitive development, which enables your baby to think and learn.

Potential long-term benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids to your baby during pregnancy and lactation include:

  • A healthy birth weight
  • Reduced risk of preterm delivery
  • Reduced risk of developing eczema later in life
  • Healthier, stronger bones
  • A positive effect on overall development, including verbal, motor and social skills

Omega-3, found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, is especially important for mothers during late pregnancy and the first few months after birth. It is thought to potentially reduce your risk of antenatal and postnatal depression.

Omega-6: getting a healthy balance

Like Omega-3 fatty acids, the Omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils are beneficial in supporting heart health and positively impact blood cholesterol. Consuming recommended amounts during pregnancy will help to build up your baby’s stores, ready for life after birth.

LCPs and your pregnancy diet

While you are most likely already getting sufficient amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids, many people, including mums-to-be, aren’t consuming enough Omega-3 fatty acids.

Oily fish such as salmon, sardine and mackerel are some of the richest sources of Omega-3. During pregnancy it’s recommended that you eat 2 portions per week for a healthy intake. Any more than this and you might be exposed to the high mercury content in these fish.

Vegetarian sources of Omega-3 include walnuts, Omega-3-enriched eggs, and flax seeds.

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