You may have heard DHA is important for your baby’s brain and eye development while pregnant and breastfeeding. Even though breastmilk is naturally high in fat, it can be low in a special kind of polyunsaturated omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA for short), unless you, mama, consume a sufficient amount in your diet. If you are formula feeding, some commercial infant formulas have added DHA. You can talk to your pediatrician about what formula would be best for your baby.
What foods are high in omega-3 fats?
There are different types of omega-3 fats and they are present in different types of foods. You’ll see the acronyms ALA, DHA and EPA commonly listed on food packaging. These are all types of omega-3 fats.
Plant sources of omega-3 are generally only high in ALA (not DHA or EPA). Good sources of ALA include walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, and plant-based oils.
The best food source of DHA and EPA is fatty fish. Not all fish are created equal! Keep reading for the best types of fish to eat and ones you might want to avoid.
What's the recommended amount to eat?
While pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s recommended to eat between 8-12 ounces of fatty fish per week. Be careful not to get carried away and go over the limit on this one. Fish is unfortunately also a source of mercury, which can be harmful for your baby’s development.
Thankfully, the FDA outlines which fish are low, moderate and high risk for mercury exposure. Salmon is a great choice because it’s widely available, high in omega-3 fats and has low levels of mercury. If you’re a fan of tuna, canned light tuna or skipjack varieties are a better choice. Albacore and yellowfin tunas have a higher mercury content.
Fish you’ll want to avoid during pregnancy and lactation because of high mercury include shark, tilefish, king mackerel, marlin and swordfish.
What about supplements?
Always consult your trusted healthcare provider and talk to them about any supplements you currently take or plan to take in the future.
Generally speaking, it’s best to consume nutrients in their natural state through the foods we eat. The other nutrients and compounds in food sources can aid in optimal absorption.
Remember to approach nutrition supplements with caution, especially when pregnant or breastfeeding. Currently, the multi-billion dollar industry is not regulated in the United States, which means we don’t know for sure if any given supplement is safe and/or effective. Supplements do not have to prove they contain what they claim to contain. They can also contain harmful chemicals not listed on the label. It’s also possible to consume too much omega-3, especially if taking supplements.
Not all supplements are bad. In fact, most providers will recommend women take a prenatal vitamin if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Ask your provider if an omega-3 supplement would be beneficial to you and your baby. In the mean time, enjoy a nice filet of grilled salmon this week! You’ve earned it, mama!
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