Women who are pregnant or nursing need to be conscious about consuming a healthy diet each day and getting adequate amounts of essential prenatal vitamins such as calcium or folic acid. The need for such elements has been established for years but scientists are recently discovering that DHA omega-3 (i.e. docosahexaenoic acid) could be just another essential material to pregnant or nursing women.
What Is DHA?
DHA and pregnancy are often linkded together. DHA omega-3 is primarily found in the heart, brain and eyes though it can be found all throughout the body. Actually, 97 percent of the omega-3 fat lays in the brain and 93 percent in the eyes. Therefore, it is essential for the baby’s developmentboth in prenatal and postnatal days.Unlike adults, infants do not yet have this ability so they will need to obtain DHA from dietary sources through placenta in pregnancy and breast milk in nursing. If mothers get more DHA into their diet during pregnancy and while nursing, it will make it easier for their baby to obtain adequate amounts of DHA for development.
Why Is DHA Needed During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy your body will increase the amount of DHA to accommodate the demands from the baby. This nutrient will then accumulate in the developing brain. This process will come to its peak during the third trimester and then throughout the first year of your baby’s life. As an additional benefit, increasing the amount of DHA in your diet to accommodate your baby will reduce your risk of heart disease, too. DHA benefits for growing babies can include brain development, vision development, and weight gain.
1. Brain Development of the Baby
Studies have shown that mothers with an adequate supply of DHA in the second half of pregnancy tends to have babies with higher scores on later hand–eye coordination tests. These babies have also been found to have higher IQ scores. Some studies have found that children at 30 months who were given high amounts of DHA in the womb had higher motor development. What’s more, at five years they were found to have higher attention spans.
2. Vision Development
An additional study of 167 pregnancies from the University of British Colombia on the benefits of DHA found that two months old babies who were given an adequate supply of this nutrient during the mother’s second and third trimesters had higher visual acuity. The statistics may vary between studies for how the visual acuity of the child was measured.
3. Growth of the Baby Weight
Researchers from Maastricht University found that there were significant relations between the DHA levels in a mother, particularly in early pregnancy, and the head circumference and birth weight. Additional studies have noted that the consumption of DHA in a mother’s pregnancy can reduce the risk of preterm birth, even for moms who have experienced preterm labor.
How Can You Get DHA During Pregnancy?
1. DHA in Food
DHA and pregnancy have essential relations, and DHA can be taken from different food. The best dietary source of DHA is cold water fish such as herring, tuna, anchovies or sardines. However, many people avoid consuming fish during pregnancy because of the risk of mercury poisoning. There are several high quality fish oil supplements which are considered a safe way to get DHA into your diet. Look for a supplement from a reputable manufacturer that will allow you to get this nutrient with no risk of toxicity.
If you are willing to use food sources to gain DHA, the best options include:
- Farmed coho salmon, cooked- 740mg for every 3oz.
- Cooked blue crab- 196 mg for every 3 oz.
- Drained, canned light tuna- 190 mg for every 3oz.
- Cooked catfish- 116mg for every 3 oz.
- Fortified eggs- 85-200mg each
2. DHA Supplements
DHA can also be obtained in supplement form, including prenatal vitamins. These supplements are advertised as helping to reduce postpartum depression and improving the cognitive function of both mother and baby, which is not confirmed by a decisive evidence or research. Since there is not much conclusive evidence about how DHA supplements affect the body, talk to your doctor and take caution when using a DHA supplement.
Precautions on Taking DHA During Pregnancy
Although DHA and pregnancy have important relations, there are some precautions you need to note. According to the National Institutes of Health, consuming fish oil supplements to get DHA is safe while you are pregnancy so long as you limit the amount you take. Pregnancy RDA is 300mg and you should not take more than 3g of fish oil per day. Avoid eating swordfish, shark, tilefish or king mackerel. Also be aware that fish oil supplements are known to cause side effects including nausea, bad breath and heartburn.
More information about DHA during pregnancy can be seen in the video: