Optimal nutrition during pregnancy is one of the most important gifts you can give you and your growing baby. All the nutrients required for healthy development and growth of the baby are passed on through the mother’s diet. Certain nutrients are required in higher amounts then can be obtained from the diet alone. One of these is an omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
DHA is the most important of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids when it comes to pregnancy. The majority of DHA supplementation comes in the form of fish oils, which consist of two omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). During pregnancy ensuring a higher content of DHA is essential for the following reasons:
- It provides the fuel for baby’s developing brain and retina, improving visual acuity;
- Increases cognitive function, intelligence, and IQ;
- Reduces the risk of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia and other developmental disorders;
- Increases gestation time and birth weight; and
- Reduces severity of allergies.
During the first three months of the baby’s life, the brain is developing at a significant rate. The DHA levels within baby’s brain triple during the first 3 months allowing for development of the brain, spinal cord, and the neurological system. During this time, DHA makes up about 11% of the dry weight of baby’s brain. Furthermore, come the third trimester, even more significant brain growth occurs averaging 400-500%. Needless to say, it is so important that mom obtains adequate levels of DHA throughout her pregnancy.
Not only is DHA important for baby’s development, it also helps to support mom’s health as well. DHA is stored in the brain, tissues and red blood cells. The placenta takes the stores from the blood and directs it to the baby as it needs. If mom does not have adequate levels of DHA, the placenta will draw all of moms’ stores for the developing baby leaving mom deficient. In fact, women’s brain cell volume actually decreases during pregnancy, this is the reason for “baby brain”. DHA deficiency has been strongly linked with postnatal depression, poor concentration, memory and learning difficulties in the pre and postnatal period for mom. Ensuring adequate levels of DHA during and after pregnancy helps to improve concentration, focus and mood.