Low fish intake linked to pre-term delivery risk

February 26, 2002 in Healthy Eating, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Low fish intake linked to pre-term delivery risk

A new study links low consumption of fish early in pregnancy to a greater risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight. This suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oil supplements might help prevent these complications.

This study of more than 8,700 pregnant women in Denmark found that those who said they currently ate no fish were around three times more likely than those who ate the most to have a preterm delivery.

Overall, women who ate some fish were less likely than those who did not to deliver prematurely, and their babies tended to weigh more. For instance, the rate of premature birth among women who ate no fish was about 7%, compared with roughly 2% for women who had fish at least once a week.

While more fish might be a good thing during pregnancy, not all types of fish should be consumed. Large species fish such as swordfish and shark can contain significant amounts of metals like lead and mercury. Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration advise pregnant women to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish because they may contain high levels of mercury, which can potentially harm the developing fetal nervous system. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and as a by-product of industrial pollution; it can accumulate in certain long-lived fish that consume other fish.

The researchers said that drawing such conclusions from these findings is "irresponsible." The study suggests even eating small amounts of fish could be beneficial, so the risks of pollutant contamination would be low.

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