Researchers looked at 52 pregnant women who took either a placebo or a fish oil capsule containing 300 milligrams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) five days a week each week from weeks 24 to 40 of pregnancy. DHA is a prominent omega-3 fatty acid.
After the babies were born, the researchers assessed the women for postpartum depression symptoms, such as sleeping and eating problems, anxiety, emotional issues, confusion, guilt, loss of self and thoughts of suicide.
Fewer symptoms of depression
There weren't enough women in the study to determine if consuming DHA resulted in a lower incidence of postpartum depression. But women who took the fish oil capsules had significantly fewer symptoms of postpartum depression than those who took the placebo, said Dr. Michelle Price Judge, of the University of Connecticut School of Nursing, and colleagues.
"DHA consumption during pregnancy at levels that are reasonably attained from foods has the potential to decrease symptoms of postpartum depression," they concluded in a news release from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
But one expert said the jury is still out on fish oil's ability to curb postpartum blues.
"This study is interesting but must be replicated on a larger scale with proper controls for a number of medical and psychosocial factors before concluding that omega-3 fatty acid consumption lowers the risk of postpartum depression," said Dr. Shari I. Lusskin, director of reproductive psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
"In the meanwhile," she said, "following a healthy diet can only be a good thing for the pregnant woman and her developing baby."
The study was to be presented Tuesday at a meeting of the federation in Washington, DC Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Postpartum depression affects up to 25% of new mothers, some experts estimate.
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