Low fish intake linked to premature birth

A recent Danish study indicates that women who eat little or no fish during early pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely. Nearly 9000 women who were 16 weeks pregnant were asked to complete a questionnaire on their fish-eating habits. This eventually revealed that low birth weight and premature birth decreased with increased fish consumption.


Just over seven per cent of women who never ate fish had a premature delivery, compared with 1.9 per cent of women who ate fish at least once a week. This indicates that although very little is known about the causes of preterm birth, the mother's intake of the fatty acids found in fish may be an important factor. Premature birth of babies is associated with an increased risk of death and of developing a variety of disorders, such as lung disease. The associations between maternal diet and these problems merits further investigation.

Triggering labour

Previous studies have found high birth weights and relatively long pregnancies among women with a high fish intake living in the Faroe Islands. There is other evidence of a lower rate of premature birth among pregnant women taking fish oil supplements. One of the nutrients particular to fish, compared with other foods, is long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. It is biologically possible that if women have a low consumption of these fatty acids, the delivery process may be triggered more easily. High levels of Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce production of certain hormones involved in triggering childbirth.


In the UK, about one in 10 pregnancies end with premature labour. Preterm birth is one of the most common causes of death and disability and there is an urgent need to unravel the causes which, in many cases, remain a mystery.


This research is now being extended to more than 80,000 women in Denmark, in an attempt to further establish the influence of maternal diet on the length of pregnancy.


Summary based on an article in the British Medical Journal Vol 324, p 447, 2002