DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s naturally present in breast milk, is as important to your baby’s health and development as vitamins and minerals are. It supports everything from brain and eye development… to healthy birth weight…to strong immunity… to healthy red blood cells…to motor skills…to sociability.
How can one nutrient be good for so many things? The answer is that DHA is a key building block of cell membranes, and it also helps regulate all sorts of cellular activity. In other words, DHA is needed not only to build your baby’s cells, but also to make sure they function correctly.
Here are just some of findings from recent research highlighting why developing babies need DHA:
- Brain development and cognitive function: The brain is a fatty organ, and DHA is its most abundant fatty acid, so it’s no surprise that developing babies require DHA for proper brain development.* The proof is in the research. A just-published meta-analysis of 15 different studies found that kids of moms who took DHA supplements while pregnant scored higher on mental development tests.*
- Eye development and visual acuity: DHA is even more concentrated in the retina of the eye than it is in the brain, and it’s essential for eye development.* Several studies have shown that moms who consume more DHA during pregnancy give birth to babies with better visual acuity.*
- Healthy birth weight: One of the best predictors of infant health is birth weight. And one of the most important benefits of ample DHA intake during pregnancy is higher birth weight babies.* A recent study found that infants born to women who supplemented with DHA (600 mg per day) while pregnant weighed more and were more likely to be carried to term.*
- Strong immunity: Everyone knows how vulnerable little ones are, as their adaptive immune system — the one that learns from experience — hasn’t developed yet. So it’s good to know that when expecting moms take DHA supplements, babies get an immune head start.* A study published in 2011 found that women who took DHA supplements (400 mg per day) while pregnant gave birth to infants with stronger immune systems.*
- Healthy red blood cells: Iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. A fascinating study published in 2015 found that taking DHA supplements during pregnancy helps developing babies absorb more iron, thereby supporting healthy red blood cells.*[v]
- Motor skills: Here’s an eye-opening finding: How much DHA you get during pregnancy affects your child’s coordination seven years later!* In a 2007 study, researchers found that DHA levels in moms’ umbilical cord blood was strongly associated with better motor function — including hand-eye coordination — in their offspring seven years later.
- Sociability: Would you believe that prenatal exposure to DHA can even impact how well your child fits in later in life?* That’s the finding of another study published in 2007, which concluded that pregnant women who ate fish or seafood two to three times weekly gave birth to children who had better social skills at eight years of age. The association was strongest for those who ate lots of fatty fish, which contain the most omega-3s.*
How much Omega-3 DHA is enough?
According to several expert panels in the United States, pregnant women should consume 200-300 mg of DHA per day to support proper neurodevelopment, an amount easily attainable through supplementation.* Consider these options:
- 2 softgels of Barlean’s Fish Oil Fresh Catch = 240 mg DHA
- 3 softgels of Barlean’s Alaskan Salmon Oil = 190 mg DHA
- 2 softgels of Barlean’s Cod Liver Oil Fresh Catch = 235 mg DHA
- 1 softgel of Barlean’s Ideal Omega3 Fish Oil = 250 mg DHA
Some of the studies summarized above, however, used doses up to 600 mg per day. For more robust support, these products are your best bet:
- 1 tsp of Barlean’s Fish Oil Fresh Catch liquid = 540 mg DHA
- 1 tsp of Barlean’s Cod Liver Oil Fresch Catch liquid = 540 mg DHA
- 3 softgels of Barlean’s Ultra EPA-DHA Fresh Catch Fish Oil = 595 mg DHA
- 1 Tbsp of Barlean’s Ultra High Potency Fish Oil Omega Swirl = 590 mg DHA
Vegetarian? No problem.
Pregnant women are particularly good at converting ALA, the fatty acid found in flax oil, into DHA. One tablespoon of Barlean’s Fresh Flax Oil Organic provides 7,640 mg of ALA. At a conversion rate of 9 percent, that tablespoon provides nearly 690 mg of DHA.