Omega-3 fatty acids have made a name for themselves over the years, contributing to joint health, heart health, and healthy brain function.* And as it turns out, omega-3s have plenty to offer to you and your baby during pregnancy, too. While there are a few different forms of omega-3s, research has linked most of the benefits to one in particular: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Keep reading to learn about five key benefits of DHA during pregnancy and how you can get enough of this important prenatal nutrient.
What are the benefits of DHA during pregnancy?
1. DHA may help support a full-term pregnancy.*
Your baby is considered full-term once you reach 39 weeks. And they use every bit of that time to grow and develop vital organs, like their brain, lungs, and liver. Plus, full-term babies tend to suck and swallow more effectively, making breastfeeding a little bit easier. Research suggests that DHA can help support a healthy full-term pregnancy, allowing your little one to fully develop and giving them plenty of time to prepare to enter the world.*
2. DHA may help support a healthy birth weight.*
Birth weight is the first weight of your baby taken just after being born. Most full-term newborns weigh somewhere between 5 pounds, 8 ounces and 8 pounds, 13 ounces. Having a smaller baby doesn’t necessarily mean your little one isn’t healthy. But, babies who are born with a lower birth weight may face challenges with breastfeeding and immune health, and may even have trouble reaching milestones as they grow. Research shows that DHA can help support a healthy birth weight.*
3. DHA helps promote baby’s brain and eye health.*
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 up until age two.*
Since DHA accumulation continues into toddlerhood, DHA is essential during breastfeeding and formula feeding.* Nearly every brand of baby formula contains DHA, although the levels vary.
4. Taking DHA during pregnancy may help promote a healthy attention span in children.*
It’s no secret that prenatal nutrition is important to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. But it’s incredible that your nutrition during pregnancy can benefit your child for years to come. Studies suggest that DHA during pregnancy may support healthy attention spans in preschool children.*
5. Healthy omega-3 levels may help support maternal mental health.*
Some research suggests that healthy DHA and omega-3 levels can help support healthy mood and mental health for women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.*
How can you get enough DHA during pregnancy?
DHA is a vital nutrient for both mom and baby, so it’s important to make sure you get enough. Most experts recommend that women get at least 200 mg of DHA per day during pregnancy – but that’s just a minimum. There are two main ways to get DHA:
- Your diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women eat about 8-12 ounces of seafood per week to boost DHA intake. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, light tuna, and herring are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Beware of larger fish, like king mackerel, bigeye tuna, swordfish, and shark – these all tend to have higher mercury content. Interested in learning more about fish during pregnancy? Get all your questions answered in this blog: “Pregnancy Do’s and Don’ts: All About Fish.”
- A high-quality prenatal supplement with DHA. If you struggle to eat 8-12 ounces of fish per week consistently or just simply don’t enjoy seafood, be sure to choose a prenatal supplement that includes DHA. Most of the time, you’ll find DHA sourced from fish oil. But if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, don’t worry – you can still find a DHA supplement, too. Just look for a vegan-friendly omega-3 supplement that contains DHA derived from algal oil.
You’ve got a lot to tackle during pregnancy. But with so many incredible benefits for you and your baby, make sure you have DHA on your prenatal checklist.
Wondering what other nutrients you need during pregnancy? Check out this blog next: “Prenatal Vitamins: The Nutrients You Need and When You Need Them.”