Why do pregnant and lactating women need DHA supplementation?
Why do mummies need DHA supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Isn't diet enough? How much DHA does a pregnant mum really need?
We hear of DHA all the time. Most of us women have been advised to take DHA-rich foods during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But do you know what DHA really is, and why it is so important for both mummy and developing baby?
DHA (short for docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in every cell in our bodies. It is critical for brain, eye and central nervous system development and functioning.
Our body doesn’t produce this fat in significant amounts, and therefore, it must be obtained from diet or supplementation.
It is important to understand that pregnant women have an increased need for DHA compared with women who are not pregnant.
Why is DHA essential during pregnancy?
DHA is an essential building block of the foetus vital organs such as the brain and eyes. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA)1, DHA is found in the highest concentrations in the retina, suggesting its relevance in eye health and visual development.
The foetus relies on the mother to get the required DHA. To put it simply, the content of DHA in a mother's diet determines the amount of DHA passed on to the foetus.
Foetal brain development in fact, begins in the second or third week of gestation — weeks before many women even know that they are pregnant.
This is why it is recommended that women take maternal nutritional supplements at least six months before conception, to build their nutrition stores. In turn, this ensures the mother’s body is well-nourished before she conceives. And that way, the pregnancy begins in a healthy state.
DHA is particularly important for foetal brain development during the third trimester. During this last trimester of foetal life, the brain undergoes a period of rapid growth, known as the “brain growth spurt.” DHA is transferred at an even higher rate from mummy to baby at this time.
Research also suggests that DHA supplementation may help prevent complications during pregnancy, like pre-term labor and reducing risk of pre-eclampsia2.
Did you know that keeping DHA levels sufficient is important not just during the entire pregnancy, but while breastfeeding as well?
According to studies3, during the last trimester, a foetus accrues about 67 mg of DHA per day from the mother, and during breast feeding the need increases to 70–80 mg daily.
The huge demand of DHA during pregnancy, as well as during breastfeeding, depletes maternal stores to below pre-pregnancy levels by up to 50% and this deficit can take months to even partially correct.
The depletion of the mother’s reserves may result in various health risks like postnatal depression.
Why is there a need for DHA supplementation during pregnancy? Isn’t diet enough?
According to studies4, for pregnant and lactating mums the minimum intake for optimal adult health, and foetal and child development is 300mg per day EPA+DHA, of which at least 200mg/d should be DHA.
While fish is an excellent source of DHA, some types may contain mercury, which can be harmful.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or plan on becoming pregnant eat eight to 12 ounces (two to three servings) of fish low in mercury per week.
High levels of mercury are known to have negative effects on the foetus’ brain development.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish completely, since they contain the highest levels of mercury. Some lower-mercury options are salmon, catfish, pollack, whitefish, tilapia, and shrimp.
It is almost impossible for pregnant mums to meet their DHA requirements from omega-3-rich vegetable oils and two servings of seafood a week alone.
Dietary supplements containing DHA that have been processed to remove potential contaminants are therefore a safe way to obtain DHA.
Also, mummies who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may be at particular risk of inadequate consumption of DHA5, and may thus benefit from supplementation.
How to get enough DHA to meet experts’ recommendations
Eating a diet rich in DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding is important. However, if it is a challenge for you to get enough DHA through food alone, DHA supplementation can help.
Enfamama A+ is a maternal and lactating formula scientifically formulated with the highest levels of DHA6 to help meet expert recommended daily DHA intake4.
With just two servings a day, Enfamama A+ with 100mg DHA* helps support the increased nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating moms and her baby’s development while he is still a foetus.
This is especially crucial during the third trimester when his brain grows rapidly by 260%7.
With proper nutrition and stimulation, you can help support his growth and development, right from the very start.
If you have any concerns about taking supplements you should first consult your doctor or registered dietitian.
Request for a free Enfamama A+ sample today!
- American Optometric Association. 2018. Essential Fatty Acid. Avaialble at https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition/essential-fatty-acids
- Carlson et al. 2017. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 17:62.
- Morse NL. 2012. Nutrients. 4(7): 799-840.
- For adult pregnant F lactating females, the minimum intake for optimal adult health and for fetal and child development is 300mg/d EPA+DHA, of which at least 200mg should be DHA. FAO 2010. Fats and fatty acid in human nutrition. Report of an expert consultation. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper no. 91. FAO:Rome
- Sanders TA. 2009. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 81(2-3):137-41.
- Based on recommended serving per day compared to other maternal milk brands as of Sept 2017. It is recommended to take 2 servings Enfamama A+ per day.
- Dobbing J, et al. Arch Dis Child. 1973; 48:757-767.
*In 2 servings/day