Holy Mackerel, Mom! Can Taking Omega-3 During Pregnancy Improve Kids’ Verbal Skills?

Image: Pregnant mom sitting on couch with child while child has hand on mom's stomach

Pregnant women face a quandary when it comes to eating fish. On the one hand, consumption of Omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and cod by moms-to-be is associated with multiple benefits for their little ones. These include better fetal growth, better immunity in infancy and better fine motor skills in childhood.* [i],[ii],[iii] But fish can be a source of mercury, which is no good for mamas or babies.


The question is: If you’re expecting, do the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks? That’s just what a newly published study of 38,581 pregnant women set to find out. The answer: Yes, as long as you don’t eat too much. The study found that at age five, children born to moms who ate a moderate amount of fish (up to 400 grams a week) had improved linguistic skills, indicating fish consumption benefits cognitive function.*[iv],[v]

One interesting thing about the study is that the researchers were actually looking for a decline in verbal skills of children whose mothers ate a lot of fish, thanks to mercury exposure. But they didn’t find it. Instead they found a benefit, as long as the child’s mother didn’t eat more than 400 grams of fish per week.* (That’s fourteen ounces, or a little under five 3-ounce servings of salmon.)

The take-away seems to be that you can eat fish four days a week without reaching what researchers called “the tipping point where the beneficial effects of seafood can be outweighed by the adverse effects of mercury.”


You may be wondering, "Should I take fish oil supplements during pregnancy?" The answer is yes. The safest way for pregnant women to load up on Omega-3 fatty acids is to take a high-quality fish oil supplement that has been tested by an independent agency and found free of contaminants. With plenty of Omega-3s and no mercury or other heavy metals, it’s the best of both worlds. Omega-3-rich plant foods such as walnuts, chia seeds and seaweed, or a flaxseed oil supplement, are also good options. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 



[i] Grootendorst-van Mil NH, et al. Clin Nutr. 2017 Jun 10.  pii: S0261-5614(17)30221-2.

[ii] Imhoff-Kunsch B, et al. Pediatrics. 2011 Sep;128(3):e505-12.

[iii] Hibbeln JR, et al. Lancet. 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85.

[iv] Cutcliffe T. Nutraingredients. 2017 Nov 9. https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2017/11/09/Benefits-of-moderate-fish-consumption-in-pregnancy-may-outweigh-mercury-effects-suggests-study

[v] Vejrup K, et al. Environment International. 2018 Jan;110:71-79.