Is fish oil the secret to preventing pre-term birth?

17 Nov 2016
Is fish oil the secret to preventing pre-term birth?

This World Prematurity Day, SAHMRI researchers are focused on answering the question: is fish oil the secret to preventing pre-term births?

Why the focus on fish oil?

A previous study run by our Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children theme (the DOMInO trial) was investigating whether DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) rich fish oil can reduce the symptoms of postnatal depression or have effects on child development. While the study didn’t show these reductions or effects, it did suggest a reduction in the risk of prematurity by extending the length of gestation.

Professor Maria Makrides, who leads our Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children theme, explained that this is the reason that her team is now currently focused on a study called ORIP (Omega-3 fats to Reduce the Incidence of Prematurity). 

“ORIP is a study investigating whether taking a fish oil supplement rich in omega-3during pregnancy will help prevent very premature delivery,” she said.

“Currently, 1 in 12 babies are born too soon, which equates to more than 2,000 babies born prematurely every year in Australia,” she said. 

Pre-term birth; a lifelong challenge

Professor Maria Makrides said that there are many health risks for babies born prematurely, ranging from lung disease to developmental delays -  and in some cases, even death.

“That’s precisely why the ORIP study is so important. If we can prevent pre-term birth in the first place, then we can really alleviate stress for expectant mothers and their families, and also make a huge difference to the long term health outcomes of their babies,” she said.

A landmark study

Dr Karen Best, a Post Doctoral Research Fellow working on the study, said that ORIP is the largest study of its kind in the world.

“The outcome of the ORIP study will have implications for babies, their families and the health system worldwide, with 15 million early births every year,” Dr Best said.

“This is particularly important for those babies who are born early pre-term (less than 34 weeks’ gestation) – they are babies who need the most intensive care, who end up with the most medical problems and often, problems throughout their entire lives.”

Interested in participating?

The ORIP study has already recruited 4,500 women, and hopes to recruit the last 1,000 participants by May next year. If you are less than 20 weeks pregnant and would like to join the ORIP study, please contact the ORIP team at, or on 08 8204 5007.