New study links oily fish to lower premature birthrates

Eating fish or taking a fish oil supplement may reduce the risk of preterm birth according to a new study.

A photo of lots of fish all lined up.

Tommy's news, 06/08//2018

A new study has linked a diet high in oily fish with a reduced risk of premature birth.

The study used data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a nationwide study that follows 96,000 children. Blood samples were analysed from 376 women who gave birth before 34 weeks gestation between 1996 and 2003 and 348 women who had a full-term birth.

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts and Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen said the findings highlighted the importance for expectant mothers to do their research when it comes to which fish to eat.  

Adjunct professor of nutrition Dr Sjurdur Olsen at Harvard and head of the Centre for Foetal Programming at the Danish institute said:

"At a time when many pregnant women are hearing messages encouraging them to avoid intake of fish altogether due to mercury content, our results support the importance of ensuring adequate intake of long chain omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy."

However, researchers cautioned their findings may be limited as the study was conducted in Denmark, where preterm birth rates are low, and noted that the results should be replicated in other populations.

They also highlighted their findings may not solely reflect a variation in diet and different genetic factors may also play a role.

Director of Tommy's Preterm Surveillance Clinic, Professor Andrew Shennan comments on the research: 

"This important study from the Danish national birth cohort found that high levels of fatty acids associated with oily fish intake were related to a lower risk of preterm birth. Previous studies have not been able to demonstrate that taking extra supplements of these fatty acids reduced risk of preterm birth. It may be that measuring blood levels could identify women who could benefit from such treatment. Prospective studies will need to test this hypothesis (and in different nationalities) before we routinely recommend taking these supplements in pregnancy. A normal diet and an optimal weight (BMI 19-25) prior to pregnancy is currently the best way to ensure low risks of premature babies." 

 In line with these continuing studies, Tommy's recommends the following during pregnancy: 

Fish in pregnancy

Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. Research is vital so that we can understand which women are likely to go into labour early, and help them carry their baby for as long as possible.

Tommy’s support cutting-edge work on the causes and prevention of premature birth through our centres in both London and Edinburgh. Clinics at both centres care for mums at risk of preterm birth.

We have also developed a free app for parents of premature babies, the first of its kind in the UK.

How you can reduce your risk of premature birth

It's not easy for the healthcare team to discover why some babies are born prematurely, but there are steps that can be taken that can slightly reduce your risk of premature birth.

Premature birth and managing your weight

Overweight or underweight? You're more likely to develop complications that could contribute to your baby being born prematurely. To reduce this risk, learn how to manage your weight healthily.

Premature birth and staying active

Being physically active throughout pregnancy will boost your overall wellbeing and reduce your risk of conditions such as diabetes and pre-eclampsia, which can lead to premature birth.

Unless you've been advised otherwise due to specific health problems, it's a good idea to do something active every day. This doesn't have to involve organised exercise, such as an antenatal fitness class: any activity you do in your daily routine counts, including walking.

Find out more about staying active in pregnancy here.

If you have been diagnosed with any of the following conditions associated with premature birth, please consult with your healthcare team before starting a new exercise plan or embarking on activity:

Find out more about our premature birth research today.

More premature birth research

  • Clinician scanning a pregnant woman

    The London Preterm (premature birth) Surveillance Clinic

    This unique Preterm Surveillance Clinic – funded by Tommy's as part of our research in St Thomas' Hospital, London, has won an NHS Innovation Challenge Prize, for its success in reducing the number of premature births in South East London.

  • researcher looking at samples in the Tommy's London centre

    Tommy's London research centre

    Tommy’s prematurity research centre in London is based at St Thomas’ Hospital, where the charity first began. Opened in 1995, it is the first Maternal and Fetal Research Unit in the UK.

  • Nurse monitoring premature baby in hospital

    Research into premature birth

    Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.

More about diet and nutrition

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    How much should you eat in pregnancy? During most of your pregnancy you do not need to take in extra calories (over the recommended 2,000 a day for women).

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    Nutrition in pregnancy

    Now that you’re pregnant, it’s important to eat well. Good nutrition will keep you healthy and help your baby grow and develop.

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    Healthy eating tips

    Now you're pregnant, people may tell you to have second helpings or to eat more treats '...because you're eating for two'. It’s not true and is likely to lead to extra weight gain.

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    Questions about diet in pregnancy

    Common questions about diet in pregnancy answered.

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