Increased intake of omega-3 fats during pregnancy may reduce the risk of premature birth, new research has found.
Performed by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute with Adelaides Women's and Children's Hospital and University of Adelaide, the study shows that daily omega-3 supplements can reduce the risk of birth before 37 weeks by 11 percent and the risk for birth before 34 weeks by 42 percent.
"This is an extremely promising discovery because we now have strong evidence. Omega-3 supplements are a simple and cost effective intervention to prevent premature birth, which we know has serious health effects," says Director of Industry Maria Makrides.
"Early birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under five years.
"Premature children are at greater risk of chronic problems with their respiratory, immune and digestive systems and are more susceptible to speech, social skills, learning and behavior."
The study suggests that women expect a single baby to start taking a daily dose of omega-3 at the 12-week stage of pregnancy.
The supplement must contain between 500 and 1000 milligrams of omega-3 with at least 500 milligrams of omega-3 called DHA.
"By increasing their omega-3 intake, women can give the best chance to carry their baby to full length in 40 weeks," said Prof Makrides.
"Even some extra days in the womb can make a big difference to your child's health."
South Australian Health Minister Stephan Wade said that a reduction in premature births would bring widespread benefits to society.
"Support for premature children in intensive care and treatment of ongoing challenges related to premature birth put great pressure on families, society and the health system," said Wade.
"The evidence from this review is both exciting and convincing and something that needs further investigation."
The study, known as Cochrane Review, assessed the overall results of 70 attempts involving nearly 20,000 women around the world.