Current dietary advice for pregnant women in some countries may need reviewed after researchers at the University of Ulster found that eating more fish during pregnancy can be beneficial to a child’s development.
Research has discovered that women consuming large amounts of fish during pregnancy deliver children who out-perform, in a range of developmental tests done at nine and 30 months and at five years, children from mothers who ate fish less often during pregnancy.
Concern has been raised about the possibility of adverse affects of mercury on the unborn child. However, a study of over 200 babies undertaken by the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute at Ulster’s Coleraine campus has shown that eating up to nine portions per week can still be safe and can also be advantageous to mother and child.
The research examined 229 babies in the Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles, where fish is the mainstay of the population’s diet. On average, pregnant women in the Seychelles eat 537grams of fish each week, which is equivalent to about eight to nine meals which include fish.
Professor Strain, who is also Co-Director of Centre for Molecular Biosciences at the University, said: “Fish is an excellent source of nutrients which are extremely beneficial to the unborn child’s brain development. Our study of children and mothers in the Seychelles showed that there was no abnormal, adverse, or delayed development of brain function of the children whose mothers were eating up to ten portions of fish per week during pregnancy. Rather, children from women with the higher fish consumption were performing better in a range of developmental tests than children from women with lower fish intakes.
“The omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients in fish can promote neuro-development in the child and there is a case, given the results we have found in our research, that both mother and child can benefit from a greater intake of fish during pregnancy.”
Professor Strain also went on to say that the fish containing high amounts of mercury are predator fish such as shark, swordfish and ray, which do not feature heavily in our local diet.
Research in the Seychelles is continuing by the Biomedical Sciences Research team with further examination of the mercury exposure to the mother and its relationship with maternal omega 3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants and vitamin E status during pregnancy and the subsequent development of the child.