What about DHA?

From Guest Blogger Sarah Atherton:

When we fall pregnant or plan to fall pregnant, it’s often a time when we think about what our body needs from food, to ensure we are giving our baby (and ourselves) everything it needs.

I just gave birth to my second child and I’m still in awe at how responsive and finely tuned our bodies are. My main advice to any pregnant lady would be to listen to what your body needs, within reason! One day I returned home from work craving cheese. I took the cheddar out of the fridge and cut myself slice after slice. A week later, my husband, who would read to me about the baby’s development by week, explained that this week the baby’s bones were hardening! I’m not telling you to eat only burgers and ice cream but if you have those cravings maybe think about why? Are you getting enough calories? Enough fat? These can all come from healthy sources instead of pizza and other unhealthy take-out!

The first appointment with your OB will lead to advice on supplementing with folic acid – essential for prevention of neural tube defects at the start of pregnancy. Also iron, to help with blood production and growth of the baby. In the UK, they advise to supplement with Vitamin D (maybe due to the lack of sunshine!). Vitamin D helps build baby’s bones and teeth. However, my experience of being pregnant in both countries was that not much emphasis was placed on the importance of DHA.

For those of you who haven’t come across it before, DHA is an omega-3 essential fatty acid. I use the term ‘essential’ because the body can’t make it, therefore it has to come from our diet – but unfortunately these omega-3’s are severely lacking in the average US diet. So why is it so important during pregnancy? Well to begin with the fetus can’t produce its own DHA, so must obtain this vital nutrient through the placenta and from breast milk following birth. DHA is essential for babies’ optimal brain and eye development, and studies have also shown it to have a positive effect on infant eye-hand coordination, motor skills and attention span. I believe one day that it will become as mandatory as taking folic acid.

So where can you find this essential nutrient? Stock up on (low mercury) fish, a very rich source of DHA and other essential omega-3’s. Herring, wild salmon, trout, sardines are loaded with it. Vegetarian? DHA is also highly abundant in algae – this is where those oily fish get theirs and their are a number of vegetarian DHA supplements on the market.

The recommended daily amount during pregnancy is 300 mg/day (or about the amount in one 4-ounce piece of wild salmon). While it’s always best to get your nutrients from food sources, many women have poor appetites (and little taste for fish) during the first few months of pregnancy. If that’s the case, we recommend Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA (http://www.nordicnaturals.com/en/Products/Product_Details/98/?ProdID=1434), which has 450 mg DHA per 2 soft gel serving.