New screening program to reduce risk of premature birth

12 May 2021
New screening program to reduce risk of premature birth

Pregnant women across South Australia are receiving free omega-3 screening in a bid to reduce the incidence of premature births in the state.

The world-first program comes after years of research led by the SAHMRI Women and Kids team into how omega-3 can be used as an intervention against premature birth.

SA Pathology is incorporating the omega-3 test into its existing antenatal testing which is used to detect a range of fetal anomolies such as neural tube defects and Down Syndrome.

“Pregnant women who have a low concentration of omega-3 in their blood are more likely to have an early birth, so it is important we identify this risk early and take action,” said Dr Tom Dodd, SA Pathology's Clinical Service Director.

"Those found to have a low concentration of omega-3 in their blood will be given information on how appropriate supplements can increase their levels and significantly reduce their likelihood of a preterm birth.

“We hope this will lead to more women supplementing their diets with omega-3 where required, resulting in a reduction in the number of babies born prematurely in South Australia.”

The test will be performed on women expecting a single baby and will be undertaken within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

A research review, conducted by the SAHMRI team, examined almost 20,000 single baby pregnancies and found taking omega-3 supplements reduced the overall risk of a preterm birth by 11 per cent. Omega-3 also significantly reduced the risk of a baby arriving before 34 weeks of pregnancy by 42 per cent.

SAHMRI Deputy Director and Women and Kids Theme Leader, Professor Maria Makrides, said the screening program will be evaluated to examine the effectiveness of omega-3 supplementation and the long-term sustainability of the program.

“Babies who are born too soon, particularly those born before 34 weeks, can suffer numerous complications requiring long stays in hospital and, in some cases, long-term health and developmental problems,” Professor Makrides said.

“By monitoring the number of tests done, the percentage of women with low omega-3 levels and how many babies are born early, we will be able to show whether this intervention is working to directly benefit South Australian babies and their families.”

The Omega-3 test became a standard part of SA Pathology's pregnancy screening in April, 2021.