DHA and pregnancy – What you need to know?
Updated: Mar 26, 2022
Pregnancy can be a time of excitement and worry for any new expectant mother. As an expectant mother, you may begin to ask yourself, “How can I keep my developing child healthy?” A new mother can make many healthy choices to protect their baby.
Getting the proper nutrients in the right dosage is a concern for many moms-to-be. Some may even take a prenatal vitamin. If yes, you may want to check if it contains DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid.
What is Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that have numerous health benefits. They are deemed essential fatty acids because they are necessary for health but cannot be made by your body. Thus, you must get them from your diet.
DHA is among the 11 types of fatty acids containing in Omega-3. DHA is mainly found in seafood, such as fish, shellfish and fish oils. It also occurs in some types of algae. DHA is a component of every cell in your body and a vital structural component of your skin, eyes, and brain. In fact, DHA comprises over 90% of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain!
DHA makes the membranes and gaps between cells more fluid, allowing the nerve cells to send and receive eletrical signals. Therefore, adequate levels of DHA make it easier, quicker and more efficient for your nerve cells to communicate.
Having low levels in your brain or eyes may slow the signaling between cells, resulting in poor eyesight or altered brain function.
Why Is DHA Important During Pregnancy?
This essential fat-building block is involved in fetal growth and development. It’s not only helpful for baby, but mama too!
Supports fetal development
Several studies have found positive associations between DHA supplementation during pregnancy and neurological development in infants. In recent research, it has shown that higher DHA levels at birth are associated with better childhood neurodevelopmental health, whilst lower DHA levels were linked to higher rates of autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Besides that, it was also demonstrated that children have better problem-solving abilities during the first year of their life with mothers taking DHA supplement. This shows a close link between mothers’ DHA status and kids’ performance.
DHA does not only support for infant’s brain tissue growth and function, but also for their eyes. A study published in 2008 found babies of mothers who supplemented with DHA had better early visual acuity than those whose mothers did not.
Improve pregnancy outcomes
Supplementation with DHA during the later weeks of pregnancy was found to decrease the risk of early preterm labor. According to the World Health Organization, pre-tern births are still among the leading causes of death in children under 5 years of age. By supplementing with DHA during pregnancy, early preterm, preterm birth and low birth weight can be reduced. Besides that, it was also reported that DHA supplementation during pregnancy may reduce sensitization to common food allergens and reduce prevalence and severity of atopic dermatitis in the first year of life, and possibly until adolescence. Several studies have supported this claim, showing supplemented mothers had fewer allergies than infants of the mothers not receiving supplements.
Improve Postpartum Depression
It has been discovered that mothers selectively transfer DHA to their baby during pregnancy and through the breast milk to support neurological development in the developing child. Thus, pregnant mothers may become depleted of DHA, and it has been hypothesized that DHA deficiency may make mothers more vulnerable to depression during postpartum period. Thus, supplementing mother’s diet with DHA may be helpful for alleviating symptoms of postpartum depression.
The bottom line
DHA offers various benefits to the mother as well as growing baby including brain and eye development, high birth weight, longer gestation period as well as reduce postpartum depression. Taking enough DHA to support your baby’s rapidly developing brain and your own health. Choose a premium quality fish oil is essential during pregnancy. A reputable fish oil manufacturer is able to provide documentation of lab results on their purity levels as well as total oxidation status which should be recognized by international organization like IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) and GOED (Global Organization of EPA and DHA Omega-3s).
Mulder KA, Elango R, Innis SM. Fetal DHA inadequacy and the impact on child neurodevelopment: a follow-up of a randomised trial of maternal DHA supplementation in pregnancy. Br J Nutr. 2018 Feb;119(3):271-279. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517003531. Epub 2018 Jan 10. PMID: 29316994.
Martins BP, Bandarra NM, Figueiredo-Braga M. The role of marine omega-3 in human neurodevelopment, including autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder - a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019:1-16. doi:10.1080/10408398.2019.1573800
Judge MP, Harel O, Lammi-Keefe CJ. Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid-containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 mo. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(6):1572-1577. doi:10.1093/ajcn/85.6.1572
Innis SM, Friesen RW. Essential n-3 fatty acids in pregnant women and early visual acuity maturation in term infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(3):548-557. doi:10.1093/ajcn/87.3.548
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