The Benefits of DHA Omega-3 for Babies and Moms

By Elana Natker, RD, Parent Herald December 19, 11:02 am

That plus sign on the pregnancy test may mean that, yes, you are pregnant -- but it may as well be a slash sign for all the things you'll soon learn to cut out of your diet: sushi, caffeine, raw cheeses, undercooked eggs, deli meat (unless heated to steaming), and so on. However, there are certain nutrients that most Americans in general need to "plus-up" -- and even more so if you're a pregnant woman. One such nutrient is docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid.

There are three main types of omega-3s, but DHA is perhaps the most useful to the body. Found in marine sources such as fatty fish and marine algae, DHA is an important part of cell membranes and is especially important for brain and eye health and development, as well as heart health and other promising benefits.

The human brain is mostly fat, and much of that fat is from DHA. Just as calcium is essential for building strong bones, the brain needs DHA to function at its best. During pregnancy, DHA is an important nutrient for baby's brain to develop and grow properly.

The retina is a critical part of the eye that is also awash in DHA. According to research, pregnant mothers taking in adequate amounts of DHA support normal visual development in the growing baby and in breastfed infants up to 1 year of age.

Getting enough omega-3s may also prevent early pre-term birth (babies born before 34 weeks gestation) and pre-term delivery (born before 37 weeks gestation). Babies held to term tend to have greater health outcomes and fewer complications, not to mention fewer healthcare-related costs associated with extended hospital care AND less worry by sleep-deprived and anxious new parents!

Unfortunately, the body cannot generate DHA on its own, so it must be obtained from foods in the diet. The best sources of DHA are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines; and for infants: breastmilk or DHA-supplemented formula. All Americans should be eating at least 8 ounces of seafood per week to get enough omega-3s, and the needs are even greater among pregnant women, where the goal is 8-12 ounces per week. Unfortunately, most people get about 3.5 ounces of fish per week. To fill the gap, taking high-quality omega-3 supplements with at least 300 mg EPA+DHA is recommended. Vegans and vegetarians can get their omega-3s through high-quality supplements made from algae.

For more information about DHA for prenatal health, check out this video below from GOED: the Global Organization for DHA and EPA omega-3s, or visit GOED online at


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