Low omega-3 index in pregnancy is a possible biological risk factor for postpartum depression

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 3;8(7):e67617. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067617. Print 2013.


Background: Depression is a common disorder affecting 10-15% women in the postpartum period. Postpartum depression can disrupt early mother-infant interaction, and constitutes a risk factor for early child development. Recently, attention has been drawn to the hypothesis that a low intake of seafood in pregnancy can be a risk factor for postpartum depression. Seafood is a unique dietary source of the marine omega-3 fatty acids and is a natural part of a healthy balanced diet that is especially important during pregnancy.

Methods: In a community based prospective cohort in a municipality in Western Norway, we investigated both nutritional and psychological risk factors for postpartum depression. The source population was all women who were pregnant within the period November 2009 - June 2011. The fatty acid status in red blood cells was assessed in the 28(th) gestation week and participants were screened for postpartum depression using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) three months after delivery. The aim of the present study was to investigate if a low omega-3 index in pregnancy is a possible risk factor for postpartum depression.

Results: In a simple regression model, the omega-3 index was associated with the EPDS score in a nonlinear inverse manner with an R square of 19. Thus, the low omega-3 index explained 19% of the variance in the EPDS score. The DPA content, DHA content, omega-3 index, omega-3/omega-6 ratio, total HUFA score, and the omega-3 HUFA score were all inversely correlated with the EPDS score. The EPDS scores of participants in the lowest omega-3 index quartile were significantly different to the three other omega-3 index quartiles.

Conclusion: In this study population, a low omega-3 index in late pregnancy was associated with higher depression score three months postpartum.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression, Postpartum / blood*
  • Depression, Postpartum / epidemiology
  • Depression, Postpartum / etiology*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Norway
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Seafood


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids

Grants and funding

No current external funding sources for this study.