The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are widely known.* Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one type of omega-3 fatty acid that is especially important during pregnancy. In this article, learn about five key benefits of DHA during pregnancy and how you can make sure you get enough of this critical prenatal nutrient.
Health Benefits of DHA for Mom and Baby
DHA brings a multitude of benefits to both you and your little one during pregnancy. Check out the top five below.
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 birth, allowing your little one to fully develop and give them plenty of time to prepare to enter the world.*
2. DHA may help support a healthy birth weight.*
Having a smaller baby doesn’t necessarily mean your little one isn’t healthy. But babies who are born too small may face challenges with breastfeeding and immune health, and may even have trouble reaching milestones as they grow. In addition to promoting full-term birth, DHA may also 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 until age two, DHA intake 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 healthy attention span in children.*
It’s no secret that prenatal nutrition is important to help support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. But it’s incredible that your nutrition during pregnancy can help your little one 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 during pregnancy and the postpartum period.*
How to Get Enough DHA During Pregnancy
Because DHA is so vital for both mom and baby’s health, it is critical that you consume enough DHA during pregnancy. You can get DHA through your diet or take a high-quality prenatal vitamin with DHA. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant women eat about 8-12 ounces of seafood per week. 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.
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 in a fish oil supplement. 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 sourced from algal oil.
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.”
You’ve got a lot to tackle during pregnancy. But with so many incredible benefits for you and your little one, 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.”