How Old Do You Have to Be to Start Taking Fish Oil?

Young girl eating apple indoors
As soon as 1 year. (Image: Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil supplements, are an important part of a healthy diet. Most babies get enough omega-3 fatty acid from their mother's milk or formula, but after the age of one year, you can usually begin feeding your child a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids or supplement with fish oil, according to Bill Sears, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. However, do not give fish or fish oil supplements to a child who has a diagnosed fish allergy and consult your pediatrician first in any case.

Benefits of Fish Oil

Fish oil has many healthy benefits for children before and after birth. According to a study conducted in 2011 by researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, women who take fish oil supplements during pregnancy may boost their child's immune system. Babies whose mothers took fish oil while pregnant may be more intelligent, says Jacob Teitelbaum in a July 2009 article published in "Psychology Today." In addition, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may prevent some types of cancer later in the child's life and according to Teitelbaum, author of "From Fatigued to Fantastic," these benefits may continue throughout childhood.

Supplementing with Fish Oil

Consult your pediatrician before you give your infant or toddler any dietary supplements. If your pediatrician approves, give your child a fish oil supplement meant specifically for children. Fish oil supplements for children are higher in DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, than EFA. DHA is the omega-3 fatty acid that children need most for optimal development, according to Joseph C. Maroon and Jeffrey Bost, authors of the book "Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory." These supplements will be easier to swallow than the large fish oil capsules adults take. Children up to age five need 150 milligrams of DHA per day, according to Maroon and Bost.

Foods That Contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Your child may not need a fish oil supplement if he eats a diet that is already high in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods such as salmon, mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna, leafy green vegetables and walnuts are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid the temptation to deep-fry the fish or coat it in sauce to make it more palatable for your child. Deep frying destroys some of the omega-3 fatty acid, and both deep-frying and adding rich sauces or butter adds fat to the meal.

When to Avoid Fish Oil

If your child is allergic to fish, do not give her a fish oil supplement, as she may suffer an allergic reaction. In addition, do not give any supplements to children under the age of three unless you have consulted with a pediatrician first. Children need very small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and an overdose can cause excessive bleeding, low blood pressure or nausea, among other side effects. Always follow the dosage instructions on the packaging or your pediatrician's instructions exactly to avoid an accidental overdose.

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