If there’s anything we know for sure, it’s that your body goes through a wide variety of changes throughout pregnancy. These changes are normal and expected. However, it’s important to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to support a changing body and a growing baby. DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids directly contribute to healthy growth and development.
DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid. It is a powerful omega-3 fatty acid required for a baby’s brain development, specifically. It plays a critical role in every cell of the body, especially for a growing baby. And, it is one of the most important nutrients that pregnant people need to consume during pregnancy. Keep reading to find out why DHA is so beneficial during pregnancy and how to get more DHA into your diet.
DHA and Pregnancy
Studies show that pregnant women should consume at least 300 milligrams (mg) of DHA per day to help promote an overall healthy pregnancy. But up to 600 mg or more per day may be beneficial. DHA is essential during pregnancy because it is the primary structural component of the human brain, eyes, and skin. It plays a big role in the growth and development of the baby’s nervous and immune systems. And is known to help prevent preterm labor.
Helps Prevent Preterm Labor
Research shows that consuming omega-3 fatty acids like DHA while pregnant greatly reduces the chances of preterm birth or early delivery. A premature delivery could be dangerous and result in a prolonged hospital stay. Getting at least 300 mg/day of DHA can help ensure a healthy and full-term pregnancy.
Supports Baby’s Brain, Nervous System, and Eye Development
DHA is an essential building block for your baby’s brain, eye, and nervous system development. DHA is utilized on the cellular level to help promote healthy growth and the development of new cells that eventually turn into organs. It is important to consume DHA throughout your whole pregnancy, but DHA is particularly important in the third trimester when your baby’s brain is growing rapidly!
Helps Promote a Healthy Birth Weight
DHA is important because it directly contributes to your baby’s growth and weight at birth. A healthy birth weight reduces the risk of complications during and after birth. Your baby stores DHA consumed during pregnancy and continues to use it to maintain healthy growth and development until two years of age. In combination with other vitamins and a nutritious diet, DHA can help promote proper growth and development of your baby resulting in a healthy weight at birth and in the first few years.
Good Sources Of DHA During Pregnancy
The best source of DHA can be found in high-quality, cold-water, fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines, and herring. There’s a good chance you’re already eating some of these fish on a regular basis since they are generally recognized as a healthy food choice and one of the many foods that promote fertility. These fatty fish are high in DHA and other nutrients and low in mercury. You can get the required amount of DHA by consuming 8-12 ounces of fish per week. For help choosing which fish are best to consume during pregnancy, check out this chart from the FDA.
Seafood is the best source of direct DHA, and shellfish falls in that category. Any type of low-mercury seafood you like, I recommend including it in your prenatal diet. Shellfish should be cooked well to enjoy during pregnancy since raw options do pose a higher food safety risk. Options such as scallops, lobster, shrimp, and crab are great for getting more DHA during pregnancy.
Pasture-raised or omega-3 enriched eggs can also provide DHA to you and your baby. Consuming just these products won’t be able to provide your whole daily requirement for DHA, but can certainly help increase your DHA levels. In addition to DHA, eggs provide a ton of other nutrients that are important during pregnancy like choline. When eating eggs, be sure to include the yolk – that’s where all the DHA and choline are located!
Walnuts and Chia Seeds
Nuts and seeds are one of many great snack ideas for pregnant women and there are many that are high in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids. It is important to note that nuts and seeds are a good source of omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), not DHA. ALA has to be converted to DHA and is done so at a limited rate.
This means you will not be able to meet your DHA needs by eating nuts and seeds alone. Including more walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds in your diet, however, provides tons of benefits for pregnancy. These nuts and seeds are great salad toppings and the perfect ingredients for a healthy trail mix.
Prenatal vitamins or a specific omega-3 supplement can be a great way to meet your DHA needs, especially if you don’t consume a lot of fatty fish. While some prenatal vitamins contain a partial or full daily dose of DHA, some do not contain any at all. Prenatal vitamins also contain other essential vitamins and minerals that are good to consume during pregnancy.
Make sure your omega-3 supplement is not made from flaxseed oil, as we mentioned above, this will not be sufficient to meet your DHA needs. And always be sure to check with your health care team before starting any new prenatal supplements. To learn more about omega-3 supplements and to find one that works for you, join The Prenatal Nutrition Library.
DHA During Pregnancy
DHA is essential during pregnancy because it directly contributes to your baby’s overall growth and development including their brain. Although DHA is important throughout the entire pregnancy, you should try to up your intake even more during the third trimester. Remember, you need to consume direct sources of DHA as our body doesn’t make it and can only convert a small amount from foods you eat that contain ALA.
Always remember to stick to safe seafood during pregnancy, and avoid fish high in mercury. If you have any additional questions about DHA, feel free to ask in the comments below! And for more information about all things prenatal health and pregnancy, join The Prenatal Nutrition Library! Don’t forget, you can also download our app for free on the app store for easier access to tons of prenatal nutrition content.