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Taking a fish oil or other omega-3 supplement during pregnancy

Yes. In fact, if you're not eating fatty fish once or twice a week, taking a daily omega-3 supplement might be a good idea.

Certain types of fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA and EPA), which experts believe are important for your baby's brain and eye development. Cold-water fish – also referred to as fatty fish – contain the highest amounts of omega-3s.

In general, it's better if you can get your nutrients from food – that way you'll benefit from other nutrients in the food at the same time. But chances are you're not eating enough of the right fish to give you a significant dose of omega-3s, particularly if you're trying to avoid fish that's high in mercury.

In fact, unless you're eating a significant amount of oily fish – such as 5 ounces of salmon, 14 ounces of rainbow trout, or 16 sardines – each week, you'll probably have to get your omega-3s somewhere else.

You can't get what you need from fish sticks and canned chunk light tuna. They're low in mercury but are not a good source of omega-3s.

The other kind of canned tuna – solid white albacore – provides a somewhat higher dose of omega-3s, but it also tends to be higher in mercury, so some experts recommend that pregnant women avoid it. (The Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting your intake of solid white tuna to 6 ounces per week.)

You may have heard that flaxseed is a good source of omega-3s, but plant foods contain only the fatty acid ALA, which has not been proven to provide the health benefits of DHA and EPA.

Many foods – such as eggs, milk, soy beverages, juice, yogurt, bread, cereal, and margarine – are now fortified with omega-3s. Some don't contain very much DHA or EPA, but small amounts can add up. (Look for products that contain at least 50 milligrams of DHA per serving.)

Supplements may be an easier way to get a good dose of omega-3s. Most experts think you should get about 300 milligrams (mg) of DHA a day during pregnancy. I recommend taking a daily supplement with 200 mg of DHA, since you should be able to get the rest through food, even if you don't eat any fish. Choose a brand that also contains some EPA. (There's no consensus on how much EPA you need.)

Many omega-3 supplements contain fish oil, and most of them are virtually mercury-free. (Recent testing by ConsumerLab.com found no mercury in any of the major brands.) The manufacturers use fish that are low in mercury. Some also distill the oil to remove contaminants.

Steer clear of fish oil supplements made from cod liver oil, however. Although cod liver oil is a good source of omega-3s, it contains amounts of vitamin A that are potentially toxic during pregnancy.

Fish oil supplements come in liquid, soft chews, and soft gel form, and some are flavored to mask the fishiness.

Other omega-3 supplements are derived from algae rather than fish. I particularly like this option. These supplements have no mercury, no fishy aftertaste, and they're even appropriate for vegetarians.

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