In my work in family medicine, I see a lot of expectant mothers. I'm often surprised at how much misinformation is out there about proper nutrition during pregnancy, and in particular about Essential Fatty Acids during pregnancy.
Essential Fatty Acids are so-called because they move oxygen through our blood, they help in cell and brain development, and they keep organs and tissue healthy. One of the most crucial Essential Fatty Acids for fetal development is Omega 3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This Omega 3 (not to be confused with Omega 3 EPA or ALA) is the primary structural component of brain tissue.
What follows are five important tips for fetal development:
1. DHA is a basic building block for your baby's brain. The Omega-3 DHA is a critical component n the development of your baby's brain, spinal cord, eyes, and nervous system. Adequate amounts of DHA help to prevent allergies in children who are at risk for them, and also increases birth size and weight. It also increases your baby's coordination and motor skills.
2. Your body naturally gives all its DHA to your fetus. It's part of the miracle of birth - your body instinctively gives your fetus all the resources it needs for optimal fetal development, even if that means that it robs you of the nutrients you need. For most mothers who are deficient in DHA, this manifests itself as postpartum depression, or in brain shrinkage (also known as 'mommy brain'.)
3. Mothers who got more Omega 3s in their last trimester had smarter babies. A recent study of over 11,000 pregnant women in England showed that mothers who got more Omega 3s during pregnancy had babies with higher IQs and better social development, including fewer incidences of ADD. Infants who had insufficient supply had lower fine motor skills, less developed communication skills, and social behavior issues that could be measured for years after birth.
4. Baby's development continues through breastfeeding. If you choose to breastfeed, you are the only source of nutrition for your baby. Since your baby's development is continuing rapidly at this time, it is critical that you are getting enough DHA to supply your baby with enough for optimal growth, without depleting your reserves to critical levels. If you are deficient, discuss using an Omega 3 enhanced baby formula with your physician.
5. Prenatal vitamins generally do not contain Omega 3. It is a source of unending frustration to doctors, but prenatal vitamins rarely contain DHA. With more than 98% of women not getting enough Omega 3 in their diet to properly support themselves and their developing babies, it is very important that women are aware of this lack and are looking to make up for it through diet or supplementation.
Most women are conscious of the FDA's recommendation that expecting mothers and children avoid certain types of fish. This is because of a risk of mercury contamination, found especially in large fish that feed on other fish.
One way to avoid mercury contamination during this critical time of development is to take an Omega 3 supplement. It is vital that you ensure you are getting a molecularly-distilled supplement that is certified by independent parties to be pure and free of toxins.
Also, ensure that you are getting the recommended dose of Omega 3 for expecting mothers.