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Fish Oil For Babies: Safety, Health Benefits and Side Effects

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Regular consumption of fish is associated with the optimum intake of omega-3 fatty acids. However, in cases where the dietary intake of fish is absent or insufficient, supplementation can be helpful. Fish oil is one such supplement. But can it be given to babies?

In this MomJunction post, we tell you if it is safe to give fish oil for babies, its use for infants, and health benefits.

Is Fish Oil Safe For Babies?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has marked fish oil “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” food (1). The safe intake limit is three grams a day for adults. In general, babies under the age of one year need 0.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day (2).

Consult a pediatrician/dietitian to determine the safe intake limit for infants.

When Can Babies Have Fish Oil?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), within a few months of starting solids, an infant’s daily diet should include a variety of foods, including fish (3). However, it is not known if the rule applies to fish oil as well. If your baby consumes fish regularly and it suits him/her, then fish oil also might go well with the baby. Moderate consumption of fish on a regular basis should be able to meet your baby’s nutritional needs of omega-3 fatty acids. But if you want to introduce fish oil, do consult a pediatrician.

What Are The Health Benefits of Fish Oil For Babies?

Fish oil is obtained from the tissues of the oily fish. An example of fish oil is cod liver oil, which is extracted from the liver of the cod, an oily fish.  The oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which cannot be synthesized by the body (4).  Below are some of the benefits of fish oil.

  1. Brain growth and cognitive development: Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, are required for proper brain growth and cognitive development in infants (5). DHA deficiency, in specific, is associated with poor cognitive development leading to learning difficulties(6). Therefore, supplementing your baby’s diet with fish oil, after doctor consultation, might help.
  1. Eye development: Various research studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA, may be beneficial in aiding optimum development of vision (7). Besides, DHA may help in preserving vision and fight chronic inflammation of the eyelids, in the long run (8).
  1. Heart health: Regular consumption of fish oils may have heart-protective effects. The omega-3 can possibly lower blood pressure and improve the health of the blood vessels (9). Besides, the fatty acids are also known to reduce triglycerides and slow down the plaque build-up (10) (11). These benefits can be relevant to the baby in the long run.
  1. Immunity: The DHA is found to have immunity-enhancing properties (12). Omega-3 fatty acids also display anti-inflammatory effects that play a vital role in enhancing immunity (13)(14).
  1. Bone health: Some studies show that regular consumption of fish oil might have bone protective effects (15), and fish oil supplements can help reduce joint pain and stiffness (16). However, more clinical trials are needed to establish the exact mechanism. Fish oil also contains vitamin D that helps maintain bone health.
  1. Skincare: The use of fish oil has shown beneficial effects on the development of the cutaneous system. It is reported that fish oil could possibly reduce the severity of some skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis (17). These benefits are attributed to the omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs present in it.
  1. Overall health: Besides omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil contains other micronutrients such as iodine, selenium, vitamins A and D, and bioactive compounds. These compounds help maintain health and well-being on regular consumption.

All the benefits of fish oil confer when it is a part of a well-balanced diet for the baby. But just like any other food item, fish oils have their share of side-effects too.

Possible Side Effects Of Fish Oil In Babies

The following are some of the likely side effects of fish oil.

  1. General discomfort: Fish oil has some general side effects like causing unpleasant taste in the mouth, bad breath, foul-smelling sweat, and headache (18). These side-effects are mild and may or may not happen to all the babies. Some babies might also experience gastrointestinal issues such as heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.
  1. Possible drug interaction: Fish oil can have some possible drug interactions. Therefore, if your baby is on medications, then make sure to discuss with the pediatrician the safety of fish oil (19).
  1. Harmful ingredients: Some fish oil supplements might contain added substances that may not suit babies. Therefore, selecting a fish oil supplement must be done in consultation with a pediatrician.
  1. Allergy: An infant who is allergic to seafood might be allergic to fish too. Some basic symptoms of fish allergy are headache, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, stuffy or runny nose, and anaphylaxis (20). If your baby has a seafood allergy or any other existing allergies, then consult a pediatrician before giving fish oil or fish oil supplement.
  1. Overdose: High dosage of fish oil supplementation is associated with decreased immunity, increased anti-coagulation, and toxicity.

If your baby shows any unusual symptoms after consuming a fish oil supplement, then stop its use and seek prompt medical attention.

When To Avoid Fish Oil For Infants?

Avoid fish oil if the baby.

  1. Has a medical condition, especially a blood disorder.
  2. Is allergic to fish or seafood.
  3. Is on antiplatelet medicines or other medications that may be less effective in the presence of fish oil

Consult a pediatrician since there might be exceptions where the baby might be able to have fish oil safely.

How To Make Your Baby Consume Fish Oil?

It may not be easy to introduce fish oil to babies since they could dislike the taste. The following are some tips to introduce fish oil to a baby.

  1. Try offering flavored fish oil. The flavor could help mask the fish smell.
  2. You can mix the flavored fish oil to applesauce or any of your baby’s favorite treats. Add fish oil to a bottle of milk, soft porridge, smoothie, or yogurt.
  3. Sprinkle fish oil over pureed veggies.
  4. Once your baby starts to chew, you can opt for chewable fish oil supplements.

You may also try fish oil-fortified baby foods once your baby becomes older. Consult a pediatrician to know the right age and dosage of fish oil for your baby. Overconsumption of fish oil can be harmful. When given in the right quantity, then fish oil can help provide a well-balanced diet to your baby.

Do you have something to share about fish oil for babies? Let us know in the comment section below. 

References:

1. Marine Oils; Drugs and Lactation Database; National Center For Biotechnology Information
2. Do Kids Need Omega 3 Fats; Eat Right; American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
3. Starting Solid Foods; Healthy Children; American Academy Of Pediatrics
4. Fish oil: friend or foe?; Harvard Health Publishing
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids; U.S Department of Health and Human Services
6. Health Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA); U.S National Library of Medicine
7. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Eye Health: Summary; National Center For Biotechnology Information
8. Omega-3 for your eyes; Harvard Health Publishing
9. Omega-3-rich foods: Good for your heart; Harvard Health Publishing
10. Omega-3 fats – Good for your heart; Medline Plus; U.S National Library of Medicine
11. The Truth About Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Heart Health; Penn Medicine
12. Nothing fishy about it: Fish oil can boost the immune system; Science Daily
13. Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser et al.; Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Stress-Induced Immune Dysregulation: Implications for Wound Healing; National Center For Biotechnology Information
14. Fish Oil May Improve Immunity; Michigan State University
15. NASA studies find omega-3 may help reduce bone loss; Science Daily
16. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your health; International Osteoporosis Foundation
17. Tse-Hung Huang et al.; Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil’s Fatty Acids on the Skin; National Center For Biotechnology Information
18. Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; U.S Department of Health and Human Services
19. Should you consider taking a fish oil supplement?; Harvard Health Publishing
20. Fish Allergy; American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology