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The Importance of DHA During Pregnancy

written by: Lindsay Evans • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/6/2011

DHA supplements are increasingly advised by healthcare providers for pregnant women. What is DHA and why is it important during pregnancy?

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    What is DHA?

    DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. DHA is an omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid that is a crucial building block for proper development of the nervous system, eyes, and brain. Our bodies do not produce DHA, we must obtain it from our diet.

    Though the specific amount of DHA recommended daily is still debated among nutrition experts, most people get a very small dose from dietary sources alone. Foods containing a significant amount of DHA, such as fatty fish, organ meats, and marine plants are not usually eaten with frequency. Furthermore, many of these foods are often avoided during pregnancy due to mercury contamination concerns, leaving pregnant women often lacking in DHA and other omega-3's.

    Prenatal vitamins do not typically contain DHA, so pregnant women should take a separate supplement. Continue to take both your prenatal vitamin and a separate DHA supplement while breastfeeding.

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    Why is DHA Important During Pregnancy?

    Babies are dependent upon their mother's diet for DHA and other nutrients. Particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy, when baby's brain develops rapidly, DHA supplementation is advised. As mentioned above, DHA is important in the development of the brain, eyes, and nervous system.

    Recommendations for DHA supplementation is a rather new development in the care for pregnant women. The recommendations are based on recent studies that found significant benefits in the babies of pregnant or breastfeeding mothers who showed increased levels of DHA. These children scored higher on intelligence tests and had increased attention spans as toddlers. The mothers with increased levels of DHA had fewer incidences of preterm labor and fewer cases of postpartum depression when compared to women showing lower levels.

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    DHA Supplements

    The National Institution of Health recommends 300 mg per day of DHA for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Many supplement manufacturers have responded to the need by offering specific DHA supplements for pregnant and nursing women. Ask your healthcare provider if they recommend a specific brand, or try the ones below.

    Promise Prenatal's DHA supplement for pregnancy made from pharmaceutical-grade omega-3 essential fatty acid oil. Each soft gel delivers 275 mg of DHA. Expecta LIPIL DHA supplement is made from non-fish sources and delivers 200 mg per soft gel capsule. These and other DHA supplements are commonly available where supplements are sold or available online.

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    Resources

    Pregnant? Omega-3 Essential for Baby's Brain, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20040716/pregnant-omega-3-essential-for-babys-brain

    DHA During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding, Omega3FAQ.com, http://www.omega3faq.com/omega-3-pregnant-breastfeeding.php


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