Article at a glance
- Maternal diet and lifestyle are essential determinants of a child's health, and DHA fatty acid intake is proving to be crucial for women during childbearing years.
- DHA plays several roles in a baby's growth and development, including optimizing brain structure and function and decreasing risk for developmental delays.
- It's likely that pregnant women are not consuming enough Omega-3s as they are most often found in fish.
- Fortunately, there are cleaner alternatives to getting DHA and EPA, like marine algae, that still provide these nutrients without any risks.
Improper nutrition during the first stages of life can have profound effects on a baby's brain development and overall health. Even before birth, maternal diet and lifestyle are essential determinants of a child’s wellbeing and long-term prevention of adulthood diseases. Although the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same, research is expanding our knowledge of nutritional best practices before, during, and after pregnancy.
DHA Omega-3 fatty acids are proving to be crucial during childbearing years as they are a principal structural component of the human brain and the retinal rods found in the eye. In addition to supporting the fetus's structural development, DHA intake during pregnancy has been found to increase intelligence, improve problem-solving skills, and decrease the risk for developmental delays, ADHD, autism, and cerebral palsy in children. Furthermore, DHA has been found to prevent pre-term labor. When women consume less than 150mg per day, they are at the highest risk for delivering prematurely. DHA does not act alone, though. EPA plays a massive role in assisting DHA across the placenta. Without EPA, there will be limited transport and uptake of DHA by the fetus no matter how much DHA mom may consume.
Ideally, women would have adequate levels of Omega-3s built up even before conception because DHA and EPA requirements increase to support fetal growth. Women who are just meeting their needs may become depleted as the baby uses up to 70mg of DHA a day for its nervous system development. Even after delivery, a mother should continue to consume Omega-3s. DHA remains critical for the new baby because, through breast milk, they continue to accrue DHA into the central nervous system until 18 months of age. Lactating women who supplement with DHA have infants who perform significantly better on Psychomotor Development tests compared to those who supplement with alternative oils.
DHA and EPA are essential fatty acids, meaning they are not synthesized by the body and can only be obtained from our diet. Unfortunately, the typical US diet is low in Omega-3s, and studies show the majority of people do not consume adequate amounts. While DHA and EPA are commonly found in fish, the FDA has advised all pregnant women to limit seafood consumption due to the possible risk of harmful toxins. For pregnant women to obtain the recommended 300mg of DHA per day, alternative sources should be consumed.
Fortunately, there is another option. Marine algae, the primary producers of Omega-3 fatty acids in the marine food chain, have been used as a safer and more sustainable alternative to meet DHA and EPA needs. In addition to reducing the threat of overfishing, micro-algae can be grown in closed and controlled environments with minimal risk for contamination. Are you expecting? Check out this page to learn more about safe DHA supplementation for you and your baby.
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