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Fish is a food that many pregnant women avoid due to potential mercury content. Some fish have high mercury levels; others have relatively low mercury levels. Since mercury intake is associated with pregnancy complications, some pregnant women choose to skip fish all together instead of sorting through the different types. However, recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that consumption of fish during pregnancy may positively impact cognitive development and social prowess.

Information on dietary intake was collected as part of the NUTRIMENTHE project. The project is collecting data as part of the “Effect of diet on offspring’s cognitive development” study. Despite the noted impact of fish on cognitive development, researchers just used fish as a carrier for omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid intake. Fish oil is a fantastic source of omega 3 fatty acids known as DHA. DHA is commonly found in breast milk and infant formulas because of the significant role it plays in brain development. 

As part of the study, umbilical blood samples were taken from 2,000 women. The same women gave blood samples at 20 weeks gestation. Omega fatty acid levels were noted for both samples. Higher levels of fatty acids in blood samples were associated with improved cognitive development, particularly verbal and fine motor skills.

If women are unsure about consuming fish during pregnancy, fish oil supplements may be a viable alternative. Talk with your obstetrician or caregiver for more information on safe fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplements can contain mercury, so many companies note if mercury has been removed on the bottle.

During a previous study, the same research team looked into a possible connection between fish intake and IQ. The study revealed a correlation between fish intake and IQ in 8-year-olds. What researchers did not find out was whether or not DHA levels in the mother are directly linked to improved IQs in offspring. The team is currently studying a possible connection between the two, which will be reported in 2013.

Source: Cristina Campoy Folgoso, et al. University of Granada / American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 7 February 2012.