Maternal nutrition during and after pregnancy plays an important role in fetal and infant development.
During pregnancy, DHA – a long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid – supports optimal infant brain development, and is particularly important in the third trimester when significant brain growth occurs. Developing babies must obtain this vital nutrient through the placenta during pregnancy.
Maternal DHA supplementation while nursing significantly enhances the level of DHA available to the infant and may improve certain developmental outcomes, such as normal cognitive function. Developing babies must obtain this vital nutrient from breast milk or from infant formula fortified with DHA.
However, most pregnant and nursing women do not get enough DHA in their diet, which could affect the baby. The primary source of DHA is fatty fish, a dietary choice that is not a staple of the typical Western diet. Fortunately, DHA derived from a vegetarian and sustainable source – algae – can be found prenatal products and fortified foods and beverages, making it easier for women to include this important nutrient in their diets every day.
Some of the most popular prenatal products and fortified foods and beverages for expecting and new moms are:
Major infant brain growth occurs during pregnancy and during the first two years of life, which makes it important for parents to feed their babies proper nutrition between birth and two years old. During this stage in their lives, babies have the greatest need for DHA, an omega-3 fat that is a major structural fat in the brain and accounts for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain.
Mothers who breast-feed can provide their babies with DHA by taking it themselves. DHA is not naturally produced in the body, so it’s important that breastfeeding women consume a healthy diet that includes DHA omega-3 to support both their health and the health of their developing infant.
According to Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D. and author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, Most women do not get enough DHA in their diets. The primary source of this omega-3 fat is fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, which are not staples in the Western diet.
“Fortunately, there are easy ways for nursing moms to consume more DHA,” said Elizabeth. “Certain prenatal products and DHA-fortified foods are making it easier for women who are breastfeeding to include this important nutrient in their diets every day.”
Here are a few of Elizabeth’s favorite DHA-packed products for nursing mothers:
Maternal nutrition before, during and after pregnancy plays an important role in fetal and infant development, as well as in maternal well-being. However, most women do not get enough DHA through food. The primary source of DHA is fatty fish, a dietary choice that is not a staple of the typical Western diet. Experts, such as Dr. Michael Roizen, advise pregnant and nursing women to limit their fish consumption due to the potentially high levels of ocean borne contaminants, but to get more DHA. Fortunately, there are algal DHA prenatal supplements and fortified foods, which make it easier for women to include this important nutrient in their diets every day.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, you may want to check your local retailer for prenatal products. Below are a few products that include algal DHA.
Some women develop depressive symptoms during or after childbirth, but it is unclear why some women do and others do not. A history of depression and difficult socioeconomic conditions increase the risk of developing depression, but other factors, including nutrition may contribute as well. Several studies have examined whether a woman’s omega-3 status is associated with the odds of developing perinatal depressive symptoms. There is good reason to think that having too little of the long-chain omega-3s (DHA and EPA) found in fish and algae may contribute to the risk. These fatty acids are necessary components of the brain and contribute to its structure and function. Low DHA and EPA status may be associated with a higher risk of depression unrelated to pregnancy.
Unless a woman takes fish oil or DHA/EPA supplements, she is likely to have low concentrations of this fatty acid in her blood and tissues.
Let’s start at the beginning and look at some of the important building blocks for every woman’s diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding to help support positive brain health of their babies.
Folic acid is a B vitamin important for healthy cells. Diets with adequate folic acid may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal birth defect.
Calcium with vitamin D is essential for infant development and for the long-term health of the mother. Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium. Consuming plenty of calcium with vitamin D during pregnancy promotes strong bones and teeth. It also supports a healthy heart, nerves and muscles for the baby. Adequate maternal calcium intake ensures that enough is available to meet the needs of both mother and baby.
DHA omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid important for brain, eye and heart health. A diet rich in DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding may play a role in supporting healthy pregnancies, helping a mother’s emotional well-being after birth and aiding the mental and visual development of infants.
Women can get the “Big 3” nutrients through a well-balanced diet. Moms pass these important nutrients along to their developing infants via the placenta during pregnancy and through breast milk after birth.
Women know the importance of folic acid and calcium with vitamin D, but many are not familiar with DHA omega-3. However, scientific evidence demonstrates that DHA omega-3 is an important building block of perinatal nutrition.