DHA Needs During Pregnancy and Lactation

February 18, 2013 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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 DHA Needs During Pregnancy and Lactation
DHA is the most important component of fish oil. Dietary intake of DHA is vital for proper neurodevelopment, visual function, and the future health of your child. During pregnancy and lactation a mother’s DHA is preferentially transferred to the baby, potentially depleting her own DHA. This sets the stage for postpartum depression. A human study with mothers and their infants determined that 8 percent of fat calories as DHA1 is the optimal pregnancy and lactation dose for DHA that ensures both baby and mother have enough.

Researchers compared red blood cell DHA levels in pairs of mothers and infants at birth and at 3 months of age. The babies were exclusively breastfed. By comparing various levels of DHA intake and the differences between a baby and mothers red blood cell DHA levels they established that the transfer rate of DHA from mother to baby was 8 percent of fat calories.

This means that if a mother eats 2,000 calories per day and 30 percent is from fat, it would be 66 grams of fat per day. Eight percent of that is approximately 5,000 milligrams or 5 grams of DHA. If the mother consumed a 1,600 calories diet at 30 percent fat then it would be 20 percent less, or 4,000 mg of DHA per day during pregnancy and lactation.

This is a higher level of DHA intake than most mothers receive, even if they take several DHA capsules per day. The study predicts what the optimal level of DHA intake is likely to be for both mother and child. Since DHA is intimately involved with epigenetic gene programming that lasts a lifetime, this information is highly relevant to pregnant and nursing mothers.

The lack of such high levels of DHA intake does not necessarily mean that the baby will run low, since the baby can take it from mom as a priority. It does mean that the mother is likely to run low, which will predispose her to stress intolerance, poor mood, and increased risk for postpartum depression. At this point the critical level of DHA intake by a mother below which the baby runs low is not yet known – but it is likely that many mothers do not get enough.

If America would like a generation of children with higher level cognitive potential and better neurologic health, then pregnant and nursing moms need to take DHA. However, finding mercury-free and PCB-free fatty fish is problematic. Any mother needs to ensure whatever source of fish she may consume is not loaded with brain damaging chemicals that have the opposite effect. The safest and most convenient way to get DHA is to take a molecularly-distilled DHA fish oil supplement that is specifically high in DHA and free of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants.

Referenced Studies

  1. ^ DHA Needs During Pregnancy and Lactation  Journal of Nutrition  Remko S. Kuipers, Martine F. Luxwolda, Wicklif S. Sango, Gideon Kwesigabo, D. A. Janneke Dijck‐Brouwer, and Frits A. J. Muskiet.

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