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Fish oil key in preventing pre-term babies

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Taking fish oil supplements can extend pregnancy and reduce complications, according to new research.

While exploring a theory that fish oil might aid brain development in the foetus, South Australian researchers stumbled upon the finding that fish oil extends gestation by an average of two days.

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute is now looking to recruit a further 5500 pregnant women to take part in a wider study to test this initial finding.

While the discovery might see reluctant full-term babies requiring come coaxing by induction or caesarean section, it has major implications for preventing pre-term births.

The original study was designed to look at whether omega 3 fats were needed in supplement form during pregnancy to help reduce the risk of post-natal depression and improve developmental outcomes for babies.

Lead researcher, Professor Maria Makrides, said that, “what we found was that it didn’t seem to do that, but the really interesting data we found was that we saw this shift in the mean duration of gestation that resulted in a halving of the number of babies born at less than 34 weeks”.

“It [fish oil] reduced the proportion of births at less than 34 weeks by about 50 per cent – they are the infants that are most likely to need intensive care, and most likely to suffer morbidities of being born pre-term,” Professor Makrides told the Adelaide Advertiser.

“They often can’t breathe properly, and sometimes do have developmental problems as they grow, so the burden on the child, family, and society if often quite large.

“If we are shifting the gestation then this is a really important outcome.”

The study also found that more women required obstetric intervention because their pregnancies were continuing too far beyond term.

The new study will ask women to take a supplement daily, with some women given fish oil and others vegetable oil. Once the women reach 34 weeks gestation they will be taken off the oil.

Professor Makrides said stopping the supplements at 34 weeks will hopefully allow women to get the full benefit of avoiding early prematurity, without extending gestation beyond the expected delivery date.

“This is a safe and cheap potential solution that can easily be applied to everyone,” Professor Makrides said.

Pregnant women interest in taking part of the study can call 08 81617458.

Kirsty Waterford