When you are pregnant, the expression ‘eating for two’ (or three or more in some cases) does not refer to how much you should be eating, but rather to the quality of food you should be eating.  What you eat ends up feeding your baby and fuelling their growth and health. An important element of nutrition for a developing infant is DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, otherwise known as an omega-3.  DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid which must be obtained through diet by the mother for both herself and her unborn child.

Sharing of DHA from mother to baby

Studies have shown that a certain amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3, taken during pregnancy crosses the placenta to feed the baby.  It is the same for breast milk of lactating moms.  In both instances, the amount of DHA that gets to the child is dependent on how much the mother takes herself. [i]  The best source of DHA comes through our diet or supplements, which emphasizes the importance of including DHA into your daily lifestyle, especially while you are pregnant or breastfeeding, thus providing DHA to your baby.[ii] [iii]

Time when baby’s development needs the most DHA

DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain.  It is found in the cell membranes of neurons [iv] and it is involved in forming neurotransmitters,[v] the chemicals that neurons in the brain use to send messages to one another.  And since a baby’s brain starts to form and cranial nerves become visible between 6 and 7 weeks of gestation[vi], the need for omega-3 DHA starts early on during pregnancy.  However, the most rapid neural and retinal development (which is responsible for vision) occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy[vii]. DHA intake is crucial for this period of rapid growth to ensure your adequate levels for you and your baby.

In fact, babies accumulate DHA into their central nervous system up until at least 18 months of age[viii], therefore a breastfeeding mother will need to continue to include appropriate amounts of levels DHA in order to provide an adequate amount for her growing baby.

Click here to learn about DHA recommendations for infants and pregnant and nursing mothers.

To read simple tips for a healthy pregnancy click here.

 

Natalie Bourré is a Ddrops Guest Blogger. She is a mom of 4 young children, health writer  and social media consultant who is passionate about promoting good health for the entire family. She is keen to share scientific information about about vitamin D in an easy to understand fashion. She also truly listens to people’s input and as such, she welcomes you to connect, discuss and share your questions and feedback with her on our social media accounts.  

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[i] Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Fatty Acids. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. September 2007; 107: 1599-1611.

[ii] Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Fatty Acids. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. September 2007; 107: 1599-1611.

[iii] James A Greenberg, Stacey J Bell, Wendy Van Ausdal. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Fall; 1(4): 162-169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/

[iv] Hee-Yong Kim. Novel Metabolism of Docosahexaenoic Acid in Neural Cells. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. June 29 2007. 18661-18665. http://www.jbc.org/content/282/26/18661.full

[v] James A Greenberg, Stacey J Bell, Wendy Van Ausdal. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Fall; 1(4): 162-169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/

[vi] Medline Plus. Fetal Development.  December 5, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002398.htm

[vii] James A Greenberg, Stacey J Bell, Wendy Van Ausdal. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Fall; 1(4): 162-169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/

[viii] James A Greenberg, Stacey J Bell, Wendy Van Ausdal. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Fall; 1(4): 162-169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/