This TINY nutrient is essential for promoting a baby’s developing brain – here’s how much pregnant moms should get in their diet
(NaturalHealth365) For about 70 percent of women of childbearing age in the US, less than 5 percent of their total fatty acids in their blood are made up of a fatty acid known as DHA. Unfortunately, this is below what many experts recommend as a cut-off for pregnancy and breastfeeding. In other words, this little nutrient can have a huge impact on a child’s long-term health, and not getting enough of it could spell trouble.
Let’s take a look at some main health benefits of DHA for mom and baby and discuss how much you or your loved one should be getting.
Here’s why DHA is so beneficial for a growing baby’s health and how much you need when pregnant or breastfeeding
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of three omega-3 fatty acids found in the diet. The other two types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Your body can convert ALA into small amounts of DHA, but the operative phrase here is “small amounts.” It’s really not enough to make a meaningful difference in your well-being.
For this reason, the National Institute of Health (NIH) states that “getting EPA and DHA from foods (and dietary supplements if you take them) is the only practical way to increase levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in your body.”
Here’s why you want DHA in your body especially as a pregnant woman:
- DHA is essential for promoting normal development of the brain, nervous system, and eyes in a growing fetus
- Supplementing with this nutrient has been linked to a reduced risk of early preterm birth
- Getting plenty of DHA may also support mom’s mood during the postpartum period, likely by ensuring women still have enough left to support their own brain health after giving so much of it to their infants via the placenta or breast milk
Because essential fatty acids like DHA are so critical for a growing baby’s health, many doctors and prenatal experts advise women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant to take a high-quality DHA supplement. According to the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements, recommended amounts of EPA and DHA have not been established. However, a 2018 review published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients advises women to take 200 mg of DHA daily during pregnancy. Taking DHA before pregnancy may also be useful to ensure that a baby has all the essential fatty acids it needs from the moment of conception.
Eating fish during pregnancy? Here are the ones you should choose, according to the FDA
In addition to supplementation, you can also get this essential fatty acid straight from the source. In other words, it IS okay and, in fact, recommended to eat some amount of fish during pregnancy! In fact, the FDA advises pregnant and breastfeeding women to aim for 8 to 12 ounces per week. Just be sure to choose seafood sources that are known to be low in heavy metal toxins, including these “best choices”:
- Freshwater trout
By the way, moms: it’s not just the DHA that makes fish so healthy for you and your baby. The FDA notes that fish is also a good source of protein, iron, selenium, zinc, iodine — and more vitamin B12 and vitamin D than any other type of food.
And if you’re vegan, you may be in luck. Recent research has found that this vital nutrient can be extracted from algae, and algae-oil DHA supplements may be as effective as fish oil capsules at increasing circulating DHA levels.