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Omega-3 screening to help prevent premature births

Omega-3 screening to help prevent premature births

SA Pathology and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) are evaluating the effectiveness of omega-3 screening for pregnant women from mid-late April 2021 to reduce the number of babies born prematurely.

Why Omega-3 Screening?

Omega-3 fats are nutrients commonly found in fish and algae. The right amount of omega-3 in your body during pregnancy can help you have a full-term pregnancy. Babies born too soon (premature), particularly those born before 34 weeks of pregnancy, may have lengthy stays in hospital and may experience long-term health problems and delays in development. Women expecting one baby who has low omega-3 levels in their blood are at higher risk of having their baby born prematurely. They are most likely to benefit from omega-3 supplements. Women who have sufficient omega-3 levels are already at lower risk of having a premature baby and so should not take additional omega-3 supplements. Screening for omega-3 levels before 20 weeks of pregnancy will identify women who require omega-3 supplements and those who will not. Your health professional will be able to discuss your omega-3 results with you, and the following action may be recommended:

  • If you have a low omega-3 level (less than 3.7%), your health professional will recommend you take omega-3 supplements (fish oil or algal oil) to reduce your risk of a premature birth
  • If you have a moderate omega-3 level, you do not need to do anything different from what you usually do. If you are already taking omega-3 fatty acids as part of a multivitamin and mineral supplement or an omega-3 supplement, you can continue to do so
  • If you have a sufficient omega-3 level, your risk of a premature birth is low and additional omega-3 supplements may increase this risk. Your health professional will advise that you stop taking any omega-3 supplements.

There is not yet a screening test for women expecting twins or triplets.

How can you get this screening test?

Your health professional will give you the SA Maternal Serum Antenatal Screening (SAMSAS) request form to take to a blood collection centre. Your omega-3 level will be measured using the blood collected for the SAMSAS program. The test is provided free to families.

Evaluation of Omega-3 screening program: It is important to assess how many women have low omega-3 levels and how many babies were born early to see if screening has reduced the number of premature births in South Australia. We will electronically link the omega-3 test results with birth data in a secure way, without identifying you or your baby in any way. You may decline to have your data linked without affecting you or your baby’s care.

If you would like further information, please visit the SAHMRI