You may dutifully take one every day, but fish oil supplements during pregnancy don't appear to boost Baby's brain development, according to researchers from Australia who tested the effect of daily supplements during the second half of pregnancy. Nor do they appear effective in preventing postpartum depression among moms, according to a study published in the October 20, 2010, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As reported by ABC News, the study included 2,399 women, given either capsules containing DHA or a vegetable oil placebo—supplements were taken up until the time of birth. Overall cognitive scores were nearly identical and language scores tended to be lower in children exposed to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-rich fish oil during gestation than scores among children whose mothers took a placebo.
As for the new mothers, the study found no difference in postpartum rates between women who took the fish oil pills and those who did not.
Forget about taking fish oil? According to an editorial accompanying the study by Dr. Emily Oken of Harvard University and Dr. Mandy B. Belfort of Children's Hospital Boston, further research needs to be completed to make sure other factors did not interfere with results—type of fish oil used, accuracy in women reporting whether or not they took the supplement daily, etc. Or it could be that eating fish is better than taking a supplement.
"It may be that the [omega-3] polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish are more bioactive or that other beneficial nutrients within fish, such as selenium, vitamin D, and iodine, are also important," the doctors write. Longer-term follow-up of children in the study is needed to see if advantages from extra DHA exposure show up in the school years, the editorial also notes.