The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is essential nutrition for growing brains. Women who get more DHA in pregnancy bear children who grow faster, talk earlier, develop better eye-hand coordination, and who are less likely to develop ADD and ADHD.
DHA is the brain food every child needs before and after birth. But what about taking DHA during pregnancy. Here are the five most frequently asked questions.
- Is DHA safe during pregnancy?
- How much DHA during pregnancy is the recommended dose?
- What is the best DHA supplement for pregnancy?
- How much DHA in prenatal vitamins is enough not to need a DHA supplement?
- Are the only alternatives fish oil and microalgae? No, a woman's body can make DHA from the ALA in flaxseed oil, especially during pregnancy, when estrogen levels are highest. Pregnant women need at least 5 flaxseed oil capsules a day, however, to get enough ALA for their bodies to make the DHA they and their babies need.
When you consider the state of the oceans today, it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask whether DHA in fish oil is safe to take during pregnancy. At least for contamination by mercury, the American watchdog agency Consumer Labs found that of 44 brands of fish oil on the market, not a single one had mercury contamination.
But there are more ways to go wrong than just heavy metals. During pregnancy, it's safer to get DHA from vegan sources, such as microalgae. Algal DHA has the extra advantage of being better absorbed during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The scientific literature reports improved outcomes in children's health when the dosage of DHA is about 360 mg a day. That's more than you will get in a single capsule of any supplement. You don't need to take more than 360 mg a day, and you need to let your doctor know about all the supplements you take.
Generally, try to find a supplement that is either (1) based on microalgae or (2) made with fish oil but contains at least 180 mg of DHA per capsule. The reason to look for a fish oil product that contains more DHA is that it will contain less "marine liquids" that can cause stomach upset. Digestive side effects are not a problem with algae-based DHA.
Unfortunately, most prenatal vitamins do not include DHA, or they may include only 10 to 20 mg. You need at least 300 mg a day, which means you will need to take a separate fatty acid supplement.