An updated reviewof clinical trials regarding omega-3 intake and premature birth has found that supplementation with omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids during pregnancy can reduce the risk of having a preterm baby.

The review looked at randomized controlled trials comparing omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy with placebo or no omega-3, and studies directly comparing doses or types. Two review authors independently assessed study eligibility, extracted data, assessed risk of bias in trials, and assessed the quality of the evidence. They narrowed it down to 70 trials, involving 19,927 women.

Preterm births—babies born before the 37thweek of pregnancy—dropped from 13.4% to ll.9% with the addition of omega-3, a decrease of 11%. Early preterm births—babies born before the 34thweek of pregnancy—dropped from 4.6% to 2.7% with the addition of omega-3, a decrease of 42%. The quality of the evidence for prolonged gestation—more than 42 weeks of pregnancy—was only moderate, but it showed an increase in prolonged gestation from 1.6% to 2.6% in women who took omega-3.

They didn’t have enough evidence or enough moderate- to high-quality evidence to determine the effects of omega-3 on induction post-term, maternal serious adverse events, maternal admission to intensive care, or postnatal depression. They also didn’t have the evidence necessary to determine any difference in the child’s cognition, IQ, vision, language and behavior, or other neurodevelopment and growth outcomes.

GOED, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, pointed out in a press release that premature birth is the leading cause of death globally for children under 5 years old and accounts for nearly one million deaths annually. It’s also associated with a higher risk of health and developmental issues.

The authors indicated that no more studies were necessary to establish causality between an insufficient omega-3 intake and preterm birth, but that further follow-up of completed trials is necessary to assess long-term outcomes for mother and child.