Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for all individuals throughout life. However, during pregnancy and breastfeeding the need for omega-3s increases significantly to support the mother’s health as well as the baby’s brain and overall development.

Before we delve into why mothers-to-be need additional omega-3s, let us first know about a particular type of omega-3 fatty acid i.e., DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid and a nutritional powerhouse. It is as important as other vitamins and minerals for good health and most importantly, it is the building block of the brain (1). DHA is not synthesised by the body and needs to be supplemented through diet or supplementation. It is primarily obtained from fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and anchovies (2).

Read this post to know why DHA is essential for both the mother and the baby and how to know if you are getting enough DHA.

Why It's Important

DHA is particularly present in high concentration in the brain (97 %), retina (93 %), and nervous system (1). Interestingly, DHA is accumulated in the retina until birth whereas, in the brain, the accumulation continues until the first two years of the baby’s life (3). This fact further underlines the importance of DHA in the growth and development of the fetus. However, there’s more to it–DHA is essential for the mother’s health as well (3).

DHA benefits in growing babies (3, 4):

  • Supports eye & brain development
  • Critical in nervous system development
  • Ensures a healthy birth weight

DHA benefits in mothers (3, 4):

  • Reduces the risk of preterm labour
  • Lowers the risk of preeclampsia
  • Supports a mother’s mood after birth (postpartum period)
  • How Much DHA Do You Need

    According to the consensus guidelines, pregnant women are recommended to intake at least 200 mg DHA/day for optimal growth and development of the fetus (5).

    How Do You Get Tested?

    LifeCell’s OmegaScore-P provides a convenient and rapid way to know your DHA levels. It is a self-collection blood test, that provides expectant mothers with a simple tool to measure and optimise their DHA levels, from the comfort of their home. Additionally, the test is non-invasive and requires just a few drops of blood. You can book the test online and a specially designed self-collection kit is delivered to your doorstep with proper instructions. After a self-sample collection, the kit box is collected and delivered back to LifeCell, and clinically actionable results are shared within three working days.

    Based on your results, your doctor may recommend dietary changes or supplementation to help you reach the required DHA levels. It is recommended to repeat the test after four weeks to check if you have achieved the desired DHA levels.

    What Can Happen Due to DHA Deficiency?

    As a mother-to-be, you might wonder if DHA deficiency can harm your growing baby’s development.

    There is limited information on the long-term effects of DHA deficiency in babies during pregnancy. However, experts do believe that DHA consumption during pregnancy has the potential to outweigh the risks. With that being said, research has shown that babies of women who received fish oil (DHA) supplements during gestation were less likely to have preterm birth and had higher birth weight (3).

    How to Get More DHA

    For pregnant women, DHA supplementation is a great source to optimise their DHA levels. However, you can also talk to your dietitian and include DHA-rich foods and seafood in your diet.

    According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant women should (6):

    • Consume 2-3 servings a week of a variety of fish (anchovy, herring, salmon, sardine, shrimp, lobster, tilapia (freshwater), oyster, etc. )
    • Consume 1 serving a week of some fish (halibut, tuna, albacore, snapper, white tuna, etc.)
    • Avoid certain fish with high mercury concentrations (swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, tuna bigeye, etc.)

    You may also consume DHA-fortified eggs, cereals, or dairy products.

    Supplements

    Your doctor may recommend DHA supplements if you are not getting enough DHA through your diet. It is recommended that after consultation with their doctor, pregnant women should take prenatal vitamins that contain at least 200 mg of DHA. Ideally, women should start taking DHA supplements three months before planning a pregnancy for optimal benefits.

    The Bottom Line

    DHA offers various benefits to the mother as well as the growing baby including brain and eye development, high birth weight, and longer gestation period. With OmegaScore-P, you can now be well informed if you are taking enough DHA to support your baby’s rapidly developing brain and your own health. This test can help you and your doctor make significant changes to your diet to plan a healthy pregnancy and a healthier baby!

    If you would like to know more about OmegaScore-P,
    Call 18002665533 or SMS DIAGNOSTICS to 53456.

    References:

    1. Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Van Ausdal W. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy. Reviews in obstetrics and Gynecology. 2008;1(4):162.
    2. Omega-3 rich foods: Good for your heart: Harvard health Publishing; 2013. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/omega-3-rich-foods-good-for-your- heart [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
    3. Omega-3 fatty acids: national Institute of Health; 2021. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/#en19 [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
    4. Omega-3 fatty acids:FAQs: American pregnancy Association; 2020. Available from: https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/omega-3- fatty-acids-faqs- 4922/#:~:text=Pregnant%20women%20should%20be%20sure,serving%20(2%20soft%2 0gels) [Accessed 2nd April 2021].
    5. Koletzko B, Lien E, Agostoni C, Böhles H, Campoy C, Cetin I, Decsi T, Dudenhausen JW, Dupont C, Forsyth S, Hoesli I. The roles of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy: review of current knowledge and consensus recommendations.
    6. Update on Seafood Consumption During Pregnancy: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2017 Available from:https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/practice- advisory/articles/2017/01/update-on-seafood-consumption-during-pregnancy [Accessed 2nd April 2021].