The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are widely known. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one type of omega-3 fatty acid that is especially important during pregnancy. During your last trimester, your baby’s brain takes up a large amount of this vital omega-3 fatty acid. In this article, we share the five key benefits of DHA during pregnancy. Then, we reveal how you can make sure you get enough of this critical prenatal nutrient.
Health Benefits For Baby
Taking DHA during pregnancy may reduce the risk of preterm birth and promote healthy brain and eye development. It can also lead to more fat-free body mass in children at age five, and improve sustained attention at preschool age.
1. DHA prevents preterm labor and birth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12% of babies born in the U.S. are preterm. “Preterm” babies are born 22 to 36 weeks of gestation. Babies born preterm may require costly lifesaving treatment and prolonged hospitalizations. DHA intake during pregnancy reduces the risk of preterm labor and birth. An examination of six trials including over 4,000 women showed that omega-3 fatty acids including EPA and DHA were effective in preventing preterm delivery.
2. DHA is utilized rapidly by the baby’s brain and retina during pregnancy.
Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, are building blocks of the baby’s brain and retina. According to Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, an expert on nutrition during pregnancy and the author of Expect the Best, your baby’s brain and eyes utilize DHA during the second trimester of pregnancy and continuing until age two.
Since accumulation of DHA continues until age two, DHA intake is essential during breastfeeding and formula feeding. Nearly every brand of baby formula is supplemented with DHA, although the levels vary.
3. Taking DHA during pregnancy may improve lean body mass and improve attention span in children.
Childhood obesity is on the rise. Although many factors play a role, DHA supplementation during pregnancy may impact a child’s risk. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that moms who took 600 mg of DHA during pregnancy had children with more fat-free body mass at age five compared to the placebo group.
Another study found that taking a 400 mg DHA supplement during pregnancy may lead to sustained attention in preschool children. Sustained attention is the ability to concentrate on a task until its completion.
4. DHA during pregnancy linked to improvements in infant response to stress
A small study of infants living in urban, low-income environments showed better one-minute Apgar scores, higher birth weight, and better infant response to prenatal stress when moms received DHA supplementation.
Health Benefits For Mom
Interestingly, consuming DHA during pregnancy is not just beneficial for your baby. Take DHA during pregnancy may have some impact on maternal health, as well.
5. Seafood intake during pregnancy may alleviate mother’s depression
Low seafood intake may lead to an increased risk of maternal depression. Seafood contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA.
Eating seafood during pregnancy may have a benefit for mom’s mental well-being since observational data show a connection between low intake of DHA and EPA from seafood and a higher risk of depression.
Try this tasty slow-cooker salmon recipe to help you fit DHA-rich salmon into your regular meal rotation.
How to Get Enough DHA During Pregnancy
Because DHA is so vital for the health of both mom and baby, it is critical that you consume enough DHA during pregnancy. You can either consume DHA through your diet or take high-quality prenatal vitamins with DHA.
Choose fatty fish or prenatal vitamins with DHA.
To get the DHA you need through your diet, be sure to eat 8-12 ounces of fatty fish each week. Good food sources of DHA include salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, and mackerel.
If you are not eating 8-12 ounces of fatty fish each week, choose a prenatal supplement with at least 200 mg of DHA and take it during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. If you’re feeling sick, consider taking a smaller pill or pills, which may help you tolerate the prenatal vitamin.
Morning sickness, or anytime sickness for some women, can make it hard to take a pill. Here are some strategies for handling stomach upset during pregnancy. A study found that smaller pill size was better tolerated among women, so if you’re feeling sick, consider finding a brand of a prenatal vitamin in a size that you can easily swallow. You may need to take more than one pill to get all of the critical nutrients you need during pregnancy.
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