Mothers-to-be and infants developing in the womb are often short-changed in the same essential nutrient. The nutrient is DHA, and the best source is fish oil. Here are the facts you need to know about fish oil and pregnancy.
DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid, abundant in the bodies of fatty fish. Unfortunately, most modern diets don't include much fatty fish, these wonderful natural sources of DHA.
DHA and EPA, which are the the most important of these oils, are called omega 3's -- for their chemical makeup. Omega 3 oils used to be common in many of the fish and wild game eaten by humans for many centuries. But modern farming methods, and especially modern factory farms that produce almost all of our beef, pork, chicken and all popular meats -- these produce meat that is severely depleted in omega 3's.
The omega 3 oils are called "essential fatty acids" because the body can't manufacture them. Like vitamins, the body can't make them on its own. That's why they are essential, either in our food or in food supplements. The body has the ability -- just barely -- to make omega 3's from the Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) in flaxseed and flaxseed oil. Unfortunately, the process is so inefficient that ALA is all but useless for this purpose. That's not to say that flaxseed isn't good food; it is, but completely inadequate as a source of EPA and DHA.
And DHA especially is vitally needed for mothers and babies, during pregnancy and afterward.
The developing baby's brain and eyes really need DHA. About 60 percent of the brain is fat, and DHA makes up about half of that. DHA is also concentrated in the retina of the eye, and clinical studies have shown much improved development of vision and cognitive function in babies whose mothers took DHA supplements.
DHA continues to be vital after the baby is born, both for the mother and baby. The developing baby's brain and eyes need it. Mothers need it, too: the omega 3's have been found to be beneficial for depression, including "postpartum depression" -- the depression that develops all too commonly in women after having a baby.
These are the most critical facts about omega 3's, especially DHA -- and everything you need to know about fish oil and pregnancy.