A push to ensure pregnant women get tested for Omega-3 in the first trimester of their pregnancy is being rolled out across South Australia thanks to a $500,000 grant from The Hospital Research Foundation Group, with low levels of Omega-3 proven to be a key risk factor for premature births.
The testing will then allow for Omega-3 supplements to be given to mothers who are depleted, to help prevent pre-term births (less than 37 weeks) and minimise the associated health complications.
Pioneering research from Professor Maria Makrides, Deputy Director and Theme Leader at SAHMRI Women and Kids, has proven that increased intake of Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids for pregnant women low in Omega-3 has been found to reduce their risk of premature births by 77 per cent.
Prof Makrides said that despite this clear evidence, testing for Omega-3 levels was not widely available or known about.
“Being born too soon can be devastating for children and their families, and our research has proven that Omega-3 fats can help reduce the risk of premature birth,” Prof Makrides said.
“Premature babies, particularly those born before 34 weeks, are at greater risk of chronic issues with their respiratory, immune and digestive systems and they’re more susceptible to problems with speech, social skills, learning and behaviour.”
“By increasing their Omega-3 intake, women can give themselves the best chance of carrying their baby to full term of 40 weeks. Even a few extra days in the womb can make a substantial difference when it comes to your baby’s health.”
Tick the box and get tested
The Hospital Research Foundation Group’s funding is helping to roll out a public awareness campaign amongst GPs, midwives, women and families to tick the box to be tested for Omega-3 on their standard Maternal Serum Antenatal Screening Program form. This existing screening program involves a blood test collected between nine and 14 weeks and assessed by SA Pathology.
“It is important to test for Omega-3 in the first trimester so there is time to correct the depletion and give mothers the best chance of preventing a pre-term birth, which could occur any time from 24 weeks,” Prof Makrides said.
“We have partnered with SA Pathology to include Omega-3 screening in the standard suite of testing, but as it is not yet embedded in care, the GP needs to request it.
“This is why our education campaign with GPs, midwives and mothers is so important, and why we’re so thankful for this grant from The Hospital Research Foundation Group. To date we have reached about 35 per cent of women in South Australia but we hope to increase this to 80 per cent.”
In addition to preventing premature birth, Omega-3 is critical for foetal brain and retinal development. Omega-3 rich foods include fish and seafood as well as eggs.
Less pre-term births vital
The Hospital Research Foundation Group’s CEO, Paul Flynn, said the ultimate aim was to reduce premature births in the community.
“Health jurisdictions nationally and internationally are interested in the outcomes of this program,” Mr Flynn said.
“Good health starts right at the beginning. Not only will mothers and babies have better health and wellbeing outcomes, but less pre-term births will also ease the economic burden on the health system.”