Fish Oil and Postpartum Depression: Are They Related?

Part of routine prenatal care is the addition of vitamins designed to increase essential nutrients during pregnancy. Some of these nutrients include folic acid, potassium, and iron and are often missing from a balanced diet. However, fish oil, also known as omega-3 fatty acid, is present in most seafood. Even though pregnant women may consume seafood, their omega-3 levels could still below the recommended levels.

Although omega-3 is often used as a natural supplement for all sorts of physical and mental health conditions, including depression, its relationship to postpartum depression has remained relatively unexplored. Therefore, Maria Wik Markhus of the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research in Norway wanted to investigate this important dietary component further.

In a recent study, Markhus analyzed blood samples and medical histories of 43 women during their 28th week of pregnancy. Three months after they gave birth, the women were assessed for postpartum depression. The results revealed a direct association between fish oil fatty acid and postpartum. “In the present study we found that lower maternal omega-3 index in late pregnancy (week 28) was associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms postpartum,” said Markhus. This finding suggests that low levels of fish oil could put pregnant women at greater risk for postpartum depression.

Because postpartum depression can have far-reaching negative impacts on children’s development and can pose risks for depression, attachment issues, and emotional disturbances, it is imperative to explore all risk factors associated with postpartum depression. In an effort to examine other issues that could increase that risk, Markhus also looked at social elements including relationship satisfaction during pregnancy.

She found that the higher the omega-3 in the mother, the higher her satisfaction with intimate relationships. Interestingly, this finding was reciprocal with relationship satisfaction also directly impacting omega-3 levels. Surprisingly, however, relationship satisfaction was not directly associated with postpartum depression. But depression during pregnancy was.

Overall, these findings shed new light on the significance of essential fatty acids and nutrients during pregnancy. But they also raise more questions about the role omega-3 has on other emotional aspects, such as intimate relationship satisfaction. Future work should examine these unexplored areas in more detail in order to better isolate the specific risk factors for postpartum depression.

Markhus, M.W., Skotheim, S., Graff, I.E., Frøyland, L., Braarud, H.C., et al. (2013). Low omega-3 index in pregnancy is a possible biological risk factor for postpartum depression. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67617. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067617

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  • Augusta

    July 25th, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    I thought that women who are pregnant are supposed to stay away from seafood?

  • lauren h

    July 26th, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    I have tried those fish oil tablets before and ugh, I burped fish taste for days! Same thing with eating real fish. . . isn’t there something else that I could eat or add to my diet that wouldn’t bring these yucky side effects?

  • Omegafort SCC

    July 31st, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    This is indeed an interesting avenue of inquiry, as an extension of omega-3’s effects on mood and mental health. As for other commenters, some seafood is better than others. The Mayo Clinic, for example, counts among safe sources of seafood salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines, catfish, shrimp, and canned light tuna. But women who are still concerned about mercury levels can also opt for a fish oil supplement manufactured using processes such as “supercritical concentration,” which are now able to screen out any mercury that might exist in the tissues to undetectable amounts. As for fish burps, a high-quality supplement will have an enteric coating which will prevent the capsule from dissolving too high up in the digestive tract, avoiding this issue altogether. We invite interested readers to read more about omega-3’s benefits during pregnancy and postpartum on our website at

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