Pregnant women must opt in to join bright future of Omega-3 screening to reduce preterm birth

24 Mar 2022
Pregnant women must opt in to join bright future of Omega-3 screening to reduce preterm birth

The results are in from the first phase of a world-leading pre-natal screening program run by SAHMRI and SA Pathology that could soon lead to nationwide omega-3 screening for pregnant women, significantly reducing the likelihood of preterm births. 

However those running the program are concerned many eligible women aren’t aware this breakthrough test is available to them.

Since May last year, SAHMRI and SA Pathology have been working together to incorporate Omega-3 screening into existing antenatal testing as part of an implementation trial.

SAHMRI Deputy Director, Maria Makrides says South Australian women are the only ones in the world who currently have free, routine access to this revolutionary intervention proven to reduce preterm birth.

“Evidence shows that pregnant women who have a low concentration of omega-3 in their blood are more likely to have an early birth and treating these women with omega-3 supplements can prevent around 1 in 7 of all preterm births,” Prof Makrides said.

“We strongly encourage all women who are pregnant with a single child to ask their doctor about the test and sign up to get their results. There’s no need for another blood test as this is already part of SA Pathology’s standard pregnancy screening.”

Watch the 9 News coverage of the screening with Professor Maria Makrides

The screening is free to access for all women with singleton pregnancies. So far there’s been an uptake of around 35% of local women during the trial and researchers have found 17% are low in Omega-3, allowing for those at greater risk to get the help they need.

“We are only 10 months into the study and already this is proving to be a huge benefit for South Australian babies and their families,” Prof Makrides said.

“By identifying those who are low in Omega-3 via a blood test within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, it’s possible to intervene with supplementation and make a considerable difference to the outcome.”

Previous studies have shown that daily omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of birth before 34 weeks by 42 per cent.

Preterm birth accounts for more than 85% of all perinatal complications and neonatal deaths. Many perinatal complications can have life-long consequences, with an estimated annual cost of $1.4 billion in Australia.

“By avoiding premature birth, babies won’t have to suffer significant illness or time in hospital away from their families. This further highlights the need to prioritise preterm birth prevention strategies,” Prof Makrides said.

It’s hoped the data collected from the program will result in the decision to soon rollout omega-3 testing nationally, benefitting millions of pregnancies.

Find out more about the Omega-3 Screening Project

SA Pathology and SAHMRI are partnering to offer omega-3 testing for women with singleton pregnancies as part of the South Australian Maternal Serum Antenatal Screening (SAMSAS) program.

This will identify women who will benefit from omega-3 supplementation and appropriate advice to reduce their risk of early birth.

Updated National Health and Medical Research Council National Pregnancy Care guidelines recommend assessing omega-3 fatty acid status and supplementing pregnant women with low omega-3 intakes. The SA Pathology-SAHMRI collaboration will evaluate the feasibility and reach of the omega-3 screening.

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