DHA for Pregnant and Nursing Women
Maternal nutrition before, during and after pregnancy plays an important role in fetal and infant development, as well as in maternal well-being. Docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body, supports optimal fetal and infant brain, eye and nervous system development. Because developing infants cannot efficiently produce their own DHA, they must obtain this vital nutrient through the placenta during pregnancy and from breast milk after birth. Maternal DHA supplementation during pregnancy and nursing significantly enhances the level of DHA available to the fetus and infant and may subsequently improve developmental outcomes. DHA has also been shown to play a part in maternal well-being.
Based on the growing data supporting the importance of DHA in the maternal diet, dietary recommendations for maternal DHA intake have emerged. Unfortunately, the typical diet among U.S. women of childbearing age is consistently low in DHA, due, in large part, to limited dietary sources. Fatty fish are the primary dietary sources of DHA, yet expert bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have advised pregnant and nursing women to limit their fish consumption due to the potentially high levels of methyl-mercury (See Fish Advisories).
Increasing recognition of the importance of DHA during pregnancy and nursing and its limited availability in the typical American diet is paving the way for perinatal products fortified with DHA. Mothers want to provide the best for their developing infants and are looking for food products specifically designed to meet their need for important perinatal nutrients, including DHA.
Importance of DHA During Pregnancy and While Nursing
DHA is a major structural component of the brain and eyes and is important for optimal infant brain, eye and nervous system development. In fact, DHA represents up to 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and up to 93% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the retina. DHA may also play a role in maternal well-being. The body of research supporting the importance of DHA for pregnant and nursing women and their developing infants continues to grow.
Studies show that DHA is important throughout pregnancy, particularly in the 3rd trimester when significant brain growth occurs. Maternal DHA supplementation during pregnancy and nursing significantly enhances the level of DHA available to the fetus and infant. Certain studies (some but not all studies) have revealed that infants who received optimal levels of DHA during this time exhibited:
- Improved psychomotor development (such as eye-hand coordination) at 2.5 years of age
- Improved mental processing scores at 4 years of age
- Improved attention skills at 5 years of age
DHA has also been shown to play a part in maternal well-being. One study showed that maternal DHA supplementation increased the length of pregnancy by 6 days helping mothers carry to a healthy or full term. Additionally, some research suggests that adequate levels of DHA in the maternal diet may play a role in helping a mother’s emotional well-being after birth.
Applications and Expertise
life'sDHA is an important prenatal nutrient that is ideal for inclusion in products targeting pregnant and nursing women. Currently, life'sDHA has been successfully added to prenatal products in the following categories: