DHA is widely accepted as supporting cardiovascular health. Adequate DHA intake may also contribute to optimal pregnancy outcomes for both mother and baby, so many health professionals recommend increasing DHA consumption during pregnancy and lactation.
DHA, scientifically known as docosahexaenoic acid, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. It is the major omega-3 fatty acid of the central nervous system and retina. It comes from sources such as salmon, tuna, herring and mackerel.
During pregnancy, the need for DHA increases because of an increased demand from the baby. DHA accumulates in the brain of the growing baby, the most rapid accumulation occurring during the third trimester continuing into the first year of life.
Pregnant and lactating women should consume approximately 200 mg of DHA daily, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While there is no recommended daily allowance for DHA, the Dietary Reference Intakes provide an Adequate Intake level for total omega-3 fatty acids for healthy adults. Pregnant and lactating females should consume two 3 oz servings of fatty fish per week for adequate DHA intake. This recommended intake provides at least 500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day.
DHA Food Sources
Food sources of DHA include salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. Fatty fish such as salmon are the best sources of DHA. Pregnant women should avoid shark, mackerel, tilefish, swordfish and limit albacore tuna intake to less than 6 oz per week to avoid high mercury intake. If you don't have a taste for seafood, there are food products available such as eggs and milk with added DHA.
DHA Supplement Sources
DHA is also available as a supplement and is becoming more common. In fact, many prenatal vitamins now include a DHA supplement. Often, these supplements are marketed to improve cognitive function of mother and baby and reduce risk of postpartum depression. However, the efficacy of DHA supplements in affecting infant cognitive function and maternal postpartum depression are not conclusive. Pregnant and lactating women should use caution and consult a doctor before taking a DHA supplement.
- Nutrition and Diagnosis Related Care; Silvia Escott-Stump; 2008
- Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease; Maurice Shils; 2006
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Fatty Acids; Penny Kris-Etherton, et al.; Sept 2007
- Journal of the American Medical Association; Effect of DHA Supplementation During Pregnancy on Maternal Depression and Neurodevelopment of Young Children; Maria Makrides, et al.; Oct 2010
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation in Pregnancy and Lactation; Susan Carlson; 2009
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Docosahexaenoic acid