When you’re eating for two, what’s on the menu is important for your pregnancy. But did you know that a DHA-rich diet benefits your pregnancy and supports fetal brain development, too? Prenatal DHA supports your child’s brain during its most rapid development, and prepares your body for a healthier pregnancy. Learn more about prenatal DHA, and how much DHA during pregnancy is recommended for you.
Why is a DHA-rich diet important during pregnancy?
DHA is an Omega-3 fat and key building block of the brain. Starting in the last trimester, your baby’s brain develops faster than ever to prepare for life outside the womb. Because of this, her brain will store between 50 and 70 mg of DHA per day1. Prenatal DHA plays a large part in this process because our bodies cannot efficiently convert Omega-3 fats into DHA, and adding prenatal DHA to your diet is recommended because it provides more support for your baby’s brain as it develops on its own.
By your child’s first birthday, her brain will have doubled in size, and by her third birthday, her brain growth will be 85 percent complete. This rapid brain development begins in the third trimester, and prenatal DHA would provide additional support for your baby’s brain during that time. How much DHA during pregnancy do experts recommend? Some experts recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume at least 200 mg of DHA daily to support normal fetal brain development5.
Prenatal DHA doesn’t just support your baby; it supports your body too. Along with increasing the amount of DHA available to your baby by replenishing your diet, 2 prenatal DHA nourishes your body with good fats, and supports the growth of your placenta, uterus and fetus. When you consume prenatal DHA, you’re not only providing brain-nourishing nutrients for your baby; you’re nourishing your body for a healthy pregnancy.
If you’re expecting multiple children, it’s recommended that you add prenatal DHA to your diet to support their brain development and maintain your healthy levels of DHA. According to a study by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, pregnant women who had twins, triplets, or other multiples of children experienced lower-than-normal levels of DHA after delivery.6 You can help support normal levels of DHA by consuming an expert recommended amount of 200 mg per day.
According to a study by the University of Alberta, nearly 75 percent of pregnant Canadians consume less than the expert recommended amount of DHA7. On average, they only get 80 mg per day3.
The benefits of prenatal DHA reveal themselves as your baby reaches her cognitive milestones, and how she adjusts to life outside the womb can be a result of her prenatal brain development. It’s recommended that your child maintain a DHA-rich diet after birth to support her brain growth - remember, 85 percent of brain growth is complete by age three! According to Dr. Bruce Holub, University Professor Emeritus and founder of the DHA/EPA Omega-3 institute, a number of clinical studies have shown that many infants given DHA have exhibited better cognitive performance, learning ability, and visual acuity as compared to infants not provided with DHA.
Where can I get DHA?
Good dietary sources of DHA include fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. Fatty fish is literally “brain food” because its DHA levels are uniquely high compared to other foods with Omega-3 fats. Eating fatty fish also provides important nutrients such as protein, vitamin D, zinc, and iron. Canada’s Food Guide4 recommends that pregnant women eat at least 150 grams, or five ounces, of cooked fish each week.
However, there are some types of fish that should be avoided or minimally consumed during pregnancy due to potential mercury exposure. These fish include fresh and frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and escolar4. To minimize mercury exposure from these fish, the recommended consumption is less than 150 grams, or five ounces, per month.
For those who don’t like fatty fish, you can change the flavour by cooking with lemon juice, herbs, or spices. You can also consider a DHA supplement during pregnancy, such as fish oil. When choosing fish oil supplements, choose ones with a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the package. NPN numbers indicate the supplement is government-approved for safety, efficacy, and quality.
By including DHA in your pregnancy, you’re helping your child have a healthy start to life, and a healthy Mom to enjoy it with her. Prenatal DHA not only supports baby brain development, but a healthy, happy pregnancy, too. If you have a medical question or concern about your baby’s development or nutrition, please consult with your doctor.
1. Greenberg, James A, Stacey J Bell, and Wendy Van Ausdal. “Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy.” Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology 1.4 (2008): 162–169. Print. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/)
2. Morse, Nancy L. “Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid, Folic Acid, Vitamin D and Iodine on Foetal and Infant Brain Development and Function Following Maternal Supplementation during Pregnancy and Lactation.” Nutrients 4.7 (2012): 799–840. PMC. Web. 26 July 2016.
3. Denomme, J., et al ., Directly quantitated dietary (n-3) fatty acid intakes of pregnant Canadian women are lower than current dietary recommendations. J. Nutr. 135(2): 206-211, 2005. (http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/2/206.full)
5. AFSSA (2010). "Opinion of the French Food Safety Agency on the update of French population reference intakes (ANCs) for fatty acids."; FAO (2010). Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition: report of an expert consultation. Rome: 1-189; Brenna, J. T. and A. Lapillonne (2009). "Background paper on fat and fatty acid requirements during pregnancy and lactation." Ann Nutr Metab 55(1-3): 97-122; Simopoulos, A. P., A. Leaf, et al. (1999). "Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids." J Am Coll Nutr 18(5): 487-489.
6. Maastricht University Study - http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v51/n8/pdf/1600444a.pdf?origin=public...
7. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/full/10.1139/apnm-2014-0313#.V_K0Wfk... – University of Alberta study