DHA is one of three Omega-3 fatty acids and supports your baby’s development. Learn more about the importance of DHA, Omega-3 benefits, and sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
What’s DHA? And What Does it Do?
The short story is that DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that supports your baby’s brain and eye development. When your diet is rich with DHA, your baby can get more of it to support her developing brain. After she is born, she can get additional DHA from breastfeeding or a DHA-enriched formula.
The long story is that DHA is one of three Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, ALA, and EPA) that supports normal growth and development, but DHA is the key Omega-3 fatty acid that supports your baby’s brain and eye development. Your baby gets DHA from you, particularly during the last trimester2, to support her brain as it prepares for its most rapid growth.
Our bodies create DHA by converting ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) into EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and then DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), but not efficiently. When you have a DHA-rich diet during pregnancy, Omega-3 benefits are transferred to your baby through your placenta. While your baby’s body will convert ALA into DHA on its own, only a small amount will be converted into DHA. A DHA-rich diet from you helps provide additional support for her brain and eye development while you are pregnant or exclusively breastfeeding.
Post-natally, your baby will get additional DHA through breast milk or a DHA-enriched formula. If you are choosing formula, not all DHA formulas in Canada contain the same amount of DHA, nor have a clinically proven level. Don’t forget to look on the formula’s list of ingredients for DHA – listed by its full name – docosahexaenoic acid. Experts recommend3 that infant formula contain between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent of total fatty acids, approximately between 7.2 and 18 mg of DHA per 100 ml of formula.
When she tells you she’s hungry, and points to her favourite shapes and colours, she’s exercising her brain. By including expert recommended levels of DHA in her diet, her cognitive growth and development will be supported as she explores her world.
Learn more about how much DHA is recommended for you and where you can get it.
How Much Is Recommended?
Experts in lipid nutrition recommend at least 200 mg of DHA per day for pregnant and nursing mothers, but unfortunately, pregnant Canadian women average only 80 mg per day.3
It’s important to include an expert recommended level of DHA in your diet to transfer this nutrient to your baby. If you are expecting multiple children, each child will need DHA to support their brain and eye development. You can support each baby’s development by consuming an expert recommended level of DHA during your pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are choosing an infant formula, experts recommend choosing a formula enriched with DHA.
Where Can I Get It?
According to Health Canada, some fatty fish and seafood contain high levels of DHA, such as salmon, herring and mackerel. These fish contain more DHA compared to other foods with Omega-3 fatty acids and include important nutrients such as protein, vitamin D, zinc, and iron. If you don’t like fish, you can take DHA supplements such as fish oil. If you are using an infant formula, choose an infant formula enriched with a clinically proven level of DHA.
Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide recommends that Canadians eat at least 2 Food Guide servings (of 75 g or 2 ½ oz. each) of fish a week.*
The following foods are sources of Omega-3 fats containing high levels of DHA:
However, there are fish to avoid or eat less of during pregnancy due to potential mercury exposure. Health Canada identifies these fish as fresh and frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and escolar. Consumption should be limited to five ounces per month. Learn more about limiting exposure to mercury from certain types of fish with Health Canada.5
Try our recipes rich in DHA
- Slow Baked Salmon with Tomato, Orange, and Basil Sauce
- French Toast with Yogurt and Fruit Topping
- Salmon Roll-Up Snacks
Visit the DHA/EPA Omega-3 Institute for more information on DHA
1. 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.
2. 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/)
3. Koletzko B et al. J Perinat. Med. 2008;36:5-14