The doctors at Hemmett Health often get questions from our greater-Burlington VT clients around nutrition during pregnancy, what type of supplements are important, and what to do about fish oils and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, so we decided to write an article to help you navigate these questions.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important nutrients in our diets that aid in bodily functions such as energy storage, oxygen transport, cell membrane function, and regulating inflammation. During you pregnancy they are also vital in development of your baby’s eyes and brain, and also play an important role in controlling the length of gestation. After pregnancy, Omega-3’s are also used to make breast milk.
Research indicates that the two most beneficial omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA supports the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response. DHA supports the brain, eyes, and central nervous system, which is why it is uniquely important for pregnant and lactating women. Increased intake of EPA and DHA has been shown to prevent pre-term labor and delivery, lower the risk of preeclampsia, and may increase birth weight. Research also shows that supplementing with omega-3’s during pregnancy can increase your baby’s cognitive sores, decrease anxiety, and reduce allergy incidences.
Most western diets are severely lacking in essential fatty acids. Pregnant and lactating women are even further at risk due to the demand from the baby. Inadequate levels of DHA are linked to depression and postpartum mood disorders. Deficiencies can also contribute to mental fogginess which most people chalk up to “mommy brain.” Therefore, it’s crucial that women are intaking at least the minimum dosage requirements which can be seen below.
ISSFAL (the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids) has established the following recommended minimum dosage chart:
Infants (1-18 months): 0-15 lbs: 32 mg/lb EPA+DHA
Children (1.5-15 yrs): 15 mg/lb EPA+DHA
Adults (15-115 yrs): 500 mg EPA+DHA (with a minimum of 220 mg EPA and 220 mg DHA)
Pregnant and Lactating Women: 300 mg DHA daily
Many prenatal vitamins will include omega-3’s in the pill. Make sure that you read the labels to ensure that you’re getting adequate amounts; however, you should also consider supplementing with additional fish oil. It’s important to use a reputable, high-quality brand specifically for prenatal ingestion that monitors the quality of the oil and mercury levels. Here in the office we stand by Nordic Naturals Prenatal Fish Oil, which we sell; however, there are other reputable brands as well. If looking to do your own research, look for a company that will be able to provide documentation of third-party lab results that show the purity levels of their fish oil, down to the particles per trillion level. Also, the oil should not taste or smell fishy. If it does, it may be rancid and of poor quality.
Ingesting cold water fish during your pregnancy is also a viable option to ensure that you’re getting enough omega-3’s. Fresh fish carries the risk of containing harmful environmental toxins such as mercury which can lead to birth defects. The FDA and EPA recommend that pregnant women eat 8-12 oz of low mercury fish per week. Some good choices include: salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, trout, atlantic and pacific mackerelI’s. Some poor choices include: tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. The FDA/EPA also wisely recommends limiting white albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week due to its elevated mercury content.
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The HemmettHealth team