World Prematurity Day: DHA supplementation to reduce preterm birth risk for pregnant women

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors



  • November 17 is World Prematurity Day – a day which spotlights the struggles faced by those affected by preterm birth.
  • Globally, premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five.1 Read on to learn how DHA supplementation before and during pregnancy could provide a cost-effective nutritional intervention that can support healthy, full-term pregnancies.

World Prematurity Day was established by the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) in 2008 to highlight awareness of the struggles faced by preterm babies and their families, as well as raise the standards for preconception, maternal and newborn care. Unfortunately, premature birth is common worldwide, with more than 1 in 10 babies – 13.4 million – born too soon in 2020 and rates are rising in many regions.1 Premature birth is a leading cause of death among infants,2 and survivors can face a lifetime of disabilities, including learning difficulties and visual and hearing impairments.3

A large body of evidence has established that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy can reduce the risk of pre-term birth.4 This is an important development as there is a dearth of interventions shown to reduce preterm birth risk among pregnant women.3

DHA and its role in reducing the risk of premature births

An extensive body of evidence demonstrates that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, especially DHA, during pregnancy reduces the risk of preterm and early preterm birth. A Cochrane Review of 70 randomized controlled trials found high quality evidence that the addition of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy reduced the risk of preterm birth by 11% and early preterm birth by 42%. High quality evidence means that no further research trials are necessary to show causality.

The importance of baseline status

Two large trials  were published since the Cochrane review which established that having a low baseline omega 3 intake or blood status early in pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preterm and early preterm birth.5,6,7 The Assessment of DHA on Reducing Early Preterm Birth (ADORE) study established that supplementation with 1,000mg of DHA was superior to 200mg for reducing preterm birth, especially for women with low baseline omega-3 intake.7

DHA supplementation before and during pregnancy

Current recommendations for omega-3 intakes during pregnancy are likely too low, especially for women with inadequate DHA status early in pregnancy.7 DHA intake during preconception is paramount, as women with low early-pregnancy DHA levels or intakes have higher preterm birth risks.7,8 Women of childbearing age – particularly those trying to conceive – should have regular omega-3 intake from diet or supplements of at least 250mg per day (DHA+EPA or DHA alone) consistent with current recommendations for the general public.9 The European Food Safety Authority advises that women need at least an additional 100-200mg of DHA per day during pregnancy (total of at least 350 450 EPA+DHA or DHA alone) . But for women who enter pregnancy with a low omega 3 intake or status benefit from higher doses of 900-1000 mg of DHA or DHA+EPA.7,8 Women with low baseline intake or status can be identified by a blood test or a simple food frequency questionnaire.10

Co-create a healthier future with dsm-firmenich

At dsm-firmenich, our role is to create a healthier future for all by supporting healthy, full-term pregnancies for millions of women and their newborns. Reducing premature birth risk can help babies lead longer, healthier lives, and our partners have a vital part to play in supporting mothers worldwide to meet their nutritional requirements. 

Partner with dsm-firmenich to deliver purpose-led maternal nutritional solutions from concept to consumer. Our life'sTM portfolio includes clinically researched life'sDHA® to support maternal and infant health. This 100% plant-based DHA has reduced environmental impact, is sustainably sourced, non-GMO, and free of marine contaminants. By providing the essential nutrients for healthy fetal development, life'sDHA® helps build a healthy future for mothers and babies.


  1. Middleton et al. Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, vol. 11, no. CD003402, 2018.
  2. Wilani SR. Global burden of preterm birth. Int J Gynecol Obstet. 2020; 150:31-33.
  3. Shapiro-Mendoza CK, Barfield WD, Henderson Z, et al. CDC Grans Rounds: Public Health Strategies to Prevent Preterm Birth. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep.
  4. Middleton P, Gomersall JC, Gould JF, Shepherd E, Olsen SF, Makrides M. Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018;11:CD003402.
  5. Makrides M, Best K, Yelland L, et al. A Randomized Trial of Prenatal n-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation and Preterm Delivery. N Engl J Med. 2019;381(11):1035-1045.
  6. Simmonds LA, Sullivan TR, Skubisz M, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy-baseline omega-3 status and early preterm birth: exploratory analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Bjog. 2020;127(8):975-981.
  7. Carlson SE, Gajewski BJ, Valentine CJ, et al. Higher dose docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy and early preterm birth: A randomised, double-blind, adaptive-design superiority trial. EClinicalMedicine. 2021.
  8. Immonds et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy-baseline omega-3 status and early preterm birth: exploratory analysis of a randomised controlled trial, BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, vol. 127, no. 8, pp. 975–981, 2020.
  9. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies. Click here to learn more about the Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. EFSA Journal. 2010.
  10. Crawford, S. A., et al. "Validation of an abbreviated food frequency questionnaire for estimating DHA intake of pregnant women in the United States." Prostaglandins, leukotrienes and essential fatty acids 177 (2022): 102398.

Published on

17 November 2023


3 min read

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